Category Archives: Letters to My Sons

The Great Love Stories and the Long Lived Relationships

Dear Kids,

There’s something that you need to understand about the great love stories that you read about and that you hear about and that you see in the movies.

They’re wishful and wistful bits of imagination crafted by people who have had quite a few love stories in their life, none of which have lasted past that initial rush of feeling. They’re the people out in Hollywood where there’s a divine new love story every few years. Most don’t last. Because after the love story is the stuff that comes after the love story. Which doesn’t have quite the same rush. And which feels all wrong because it’s not as intense as it was when you just met them. And real love should feel more intense, not less.. Right?

I don’t have a great love story with the man that I’ll be spending my life with, Alex. Aka “Daddy”. Although parts of our relationship can be told that way, like a great love story.

I fell in love with him when I was seventeen. He didn’t love me back. I never fell out of love with him. And it was very intense (for me) and not so intense (for him) and then there was the time we briefly came together where we both felt everything so very deeply. There was this one kiss in the rain under a tree that I will remember for the rest of my life. Mostly because we were young and stupid and naive and it was a mental image that I held onto for a long time like a piece of comfort when we were torn apart shortly after that for a year and a half.

A few moments early on could be extracted and put into a movie if we glossed over a lot of other details. We grabbed each others hands and swung around in circles in a subway station while I laughed, afraid that he’d let go of my hands and send me flying. I think we ended up hugging instead. Maybe that would go well in a movie. In a movie we’d have definitely ended up hugging. And maybe declaring love for each other there. Instead of my telling him later and being met with awkward silence and the truth which broke my heart for a while. That scene would have been cut. Or maybe not. Maybe it would add to the poignancy of us later falling truly deeply madly in love for a little while at least. Before we reverted into the lukewarm stuff that happens after the “happily ever after” part of Hollywood love stories.

Now the early intensity has worn off and we’ve settled into a life that is composed of many other types of details that don’t look like what you’d see in a movie. We’re consumed with sleeplessness, and small non-romantic child-oriented details. We make each other tea when we’re sick. We bicker over little things. We are learning to balance ourselves with each other. But for now we do a lot of things that feel like the simple sharing of space. And sometimes I look over at him sitting next to me in bed, and I’ll see him for who he is. Flaws and all. And I’ll know he sees me for who I am. Flaws and all. And sure, it was more comfortable back at the beginning of our relationship when all those things were masked by “love” which makes you blind.

It’s not often that the blind are unhappy to recover their sight. But that’s what happens with love. That which made you blind fades away. And then you learn to love what you see. Or you break up with that person and try again. And again. And again. Because somewhere out there is a love so brilliantly dazzling that it will poke your eyes out permanently.

No thanks. I’ll take this type of love.

Beautiful imperfect.

It’s tempting sometimes to say “THIS ISN’T WHAT I WANTED OUT OF LIFE!” and wish for all those romantic things that society has conditioned me to want. The flowers (that I don’t actually like because they’re dead things in a vase.), the anniversary presents (that will never be exactly what I want or exactly how they want. Or I’ll wish that they were like last year. Maybe he loved me last year because last year he did something more special than this year. And it’s like this never ending arms race of special). Or maybe I want him to be more interested in spending 100% of his time with me instead of ever playing that video game of his. Because nothing says true love like undying obsession.

During those times I think back to the true great love story that I have in my life.

You see… I do have a great love story in my life. An erratic love story with many breakups and reunions. A love story with a man who watched too many Hollywood movies and who never managed to figure out how to do something permanent because when that rush wore off it was something that needed to be recovered otherwise it didn’t feel like love. And his type of love was the type of love that demanded I be a Hollywood starlet. Which I wasn’t. The type of true love that had to burn bright at all times and which broke up repeatedly with me because it didn’t burn brightly enough. And then it burned brighter and we came back together in a beautiful movie like moment that was entirely… Unstable. Yes. That’s the word for what that True Great Love Story was. Unstable. It was the type of love story which made me go looking elsewhere for the type of love story that I was really looking for.

This one.

The type of love where you drift apart and come back together. The type of love story where we can fart in front of each other and laugh. The type of love story which is comfortable. The type of love story where we’re best friends and can talk about anything. Not just the deeply impersonal things that new love bonds over. But really anything. The boring and mundane. The annoying. The difficult. The types of things that aren’t difficult with new love because we were too busy being all giddy.

The type of love where if we need some excitement in our lives we’ll go skydiving together. You know. When you kids are more grown up and we have the time. And where we can go all these years of sleep deprivation with all of you as little ones. And we can look back on it and be like “holy wow. We did that together.” And where we sometimes might go a while without having a real conversation, but we’ll come back to it and it will feel like no time at all had passed.

The other day I was whispering to Little Miss One that one day she’ll find someone who makes her happy. And I realized that. No. She won’t. You won’t. One day you will find someone whose existence makes you happy. But will that person “make her happy”? Has my Alexxen “made me happy”? No.  Another person can never be accountable for your happiness. Never should be.

Real love is where you share happiness, just like you share a life and a family. Not where one person is the source of your happiness.

That’s a Hollywood love story. Not something real.

Look for the real, not the story. The story ends and credits roll. The real continues on.

This continues on. And this is a lovely hodgepodge mishmash of things that no director can cut into something perfect and that no one will take out moments for if they fail to develop the plot.

In any other letter I’d come up with some sort of way to tie this all together.

Not this one. This one doesn’t end. I’m not going to tie this letter up or make it into a neat package.  I’m not going to end it neatly. No credits roll.

<3 Mama

Written in celebration of the “Boring” Relationship after reading this:

Seriously. Don’t run after me in an airport. If I’m leaving I’m not worth it. And if you’re leaving I’m not running after you either. Adults don’t pull that shit.

Grow Like A Garden (Even Crushed by a Tree)

Dear Kids,

The year is 2013. The year that a gigantic horking tree crushed the garden that we had been tending to lovingly since spring. It was a huge tree. And it fell perfectly over the garden as though it had been perfectly designed to fill the landscaping timber rectangle with the heaviest part of its limbs. I saw one lone tomato plant off to the left that possibly had survived. Everything else seemed crushed.

That was Saturday.

Today is Monday. We went out to explore the impromptu leafy fort that the tree created. Bark benches and leafy canopies that had just recently been high up in the sky and that were now child-height and ripe for climbing.

As the three of you played I noticed that the pumpkin vine that had wilted in shock had sprung back to life and was growing rapidly out from under the tree in search of sunshine. The cucumbers that had been partially ripped from the ground and shriveled in the heat? They were putting out new roots and new new growth and trying to right themselves. The tomato plants that had been bent under were standing straight again, curved a bit at the base from the weight of the tree that still rests on them, but using the tree as their new trellis instead of staying crushed. And sunflowers which had been bug-eaten had decided to bloom.

Life is beautiful and resilient and it finds a way to continue on.

Grow like a garden when it is bathed in sunshine, kids. But more importantly, grow like that garden when it was crushed by a tree. Don’t be content to simply wither when life comes crashing down. Seek that sunshine. Put out those new roots. Grow strong again.

On Saturday I was disheartened by the loss of all the hard work that I had done. Today I am reminded that I can breathe. I can wait. I can ask myself the bittersweet question of “what beautiful new things will come from this?”

Because when given a chance.. Beautiful new things do come even when it seems like everything has been destroyed.

Grow like a garden crushed by a tree. Grow faster. Reach for the sunshine again. Have faith for what is there, even if you cannot see it yet. Thrive.

<3 Mama

Moments before it all came crashing down:

Seemingly Nothing left:

A Rush of Memories and the Endless Moments of Infancy

Dear Middlechild,

You snuggle down on my lap as we examine a small Lego car that you have built. You will be three years old  next week. One week away.. Three years old. So big. So small. You melt into the curve of my body still and we sit on this big overstuffed chair with the fuzzy wool mat on it. Your little toes and fingers wiggle against my bare arms and legs and your head rests heavy against my collarbone.

Rush of memories.

Your toes always tickled me when you were tiny. Your fingers always explored the texture of my arms as I held you. When you were wrapped up in your old stretchy gauze wrap your bald little head would rest just so on my collarbone and your fingers would tickle up and down my side as you took in the world around us.

You were not keen on strollers until you were quite a bit bigger. You tolerated the swing for short spurts of time. You woke frequently all the way through  18 months with a short spurt of sleeping through the night just to tease us before the rest of all of your teeth came rolling mercilessly in.

I remember begging you in the dark of the night to please sleep.

I remember wishing that your nursing would slow.

I remember holding you as you wailed in those hard to settle moments, and how your rigid little body would slowly curl into the shape of mine and your breathing would slow and you would become limp and quiet in my arms as your still open eyes would place butterfly kisses on my shoulder. Slowly slowing as you drifted into sleep.

I remember those endless moments just a few short years ago, and how suddenly they ended as you rammed your way through rapidfire milestones. You started to walk. You started to run. You started to talk. You slept through the night. You weaned. You moved to your own bed. You  stopped wanting to be rocked at night. You stopped needing us in the room as you fell asleep. You learned to use the toilet instead of diapers.

Snuggled close… I used to hold my breath in the hopes that if I didn’t move you would fall asleep. Now, one week before your third birthday, I hold my breath in the hopes that if I don’t move I can hold you for a minute longer.

So fast. Time passes by so fast. When you were an infant those moments seemed endless.

Next week you will be three. Just three. And already those endless moments of your infancy are past. Now I understand what a gift that slowing of time truly was. It was all the time that I needed to memorize those moments that would pass by far too soon.

Thank you for the memories, little guy. And for this increasingly rare snuggle that brought them all rushing back.

<3 Mama

Grabbing Hands and Asking Hands- Teaching Respect or Demanding Respect

Dear Children,

I must apologize. Adults are horrid examples for you. We tell you all the time “NO GRABBING!” usually as someone is prying something out of your hands as you scream at us to stop.

Watching you interact with each other is a barometer for how you are being treated by the adults in your life and what types of behaviors you are seeing.

I can see myself in you when you grab something out of your sibling’s hand without asking. I know that when you are supposed to be getting dressed I follow you around and take away everything you pick up, and I put it back down. I see the time that I grabbed a toy away from you when you grabbed it away from your sister. I hear the words that I said that seemed so logical at the time that I said them, but which seem really really unfair when you echo them back to your little brother.

And yes, I see the ways in which you are treated by other adults in your lives, but this letter is about my relationship with you and not your relationship with them. This is my thank you, my explanation and my apology all in one.

Thank you for teaching me that the way adults try to teach children about respect is all wrong. There is this fiction that says children have to earn respect by showing respect. In reality it is the other way around. You learn respect by being shown respect. Consistently and without wavering. By the adults in your life that have presumably learned about respect themselves, and by the adults that have the understanding, patience and emotional maturity that we repeatedly insist on seeing from you. After all, we have had a lifetime to develop those things in comparison to the tiny amount of time that you have had.

I’ve always understood that the way to teach you not to hit is by not hitting. This concept applies across everything. The way I teach you not to grab is by not grabbing. The way I teach you to not yell is by not yelling. The way I teach you the right words is by always using the right words. The way I teach you respect is by respecting you unconditionally, even when you disrespect me. Respect does not mean that when you bounce off the walls and speak gibberish that I need to humor you. Humoring is not respectful. But neither is shame, yelling, frustration, or making demands.

I’ve been teaching each of you about grabbing hands and asking hands. And I’ve become aware of my own hands in the process. I’ve become aware of how I want to just take the thing away from you when you’re hitting with it. How I want to just take the thing away from you when you’ve picked it up for the nine hundred and ninety-ninth time after I’ve asked you to PLEASE put it down and leave it alone and don’t even think about everpickingitupagainbecause GIVE IT TO ME NOW AGH!

You do not know what something means unless you see it and hear it and feel it. You do not understand its value unless you are given it and allowed to hold it inside yourself as the simple way in which people treat each other.

And there’s no magic point at which I have earned the right to say “Well you don’t do this for me, I’m not going to do it for you”. Because then all you learn is that it’s okay to give up. It’s okay to be disrespectful if you feel disrespected. It’s okay to throw up your hands and declare that until the other person changes you just won’t be civil anymore.

It’s not okay. People don’t treat each other that way. People treat each other with respect. This is what respect looks like. If I expect you to copy it then you need to see it more clearly, understand it more deeply, feel it more. You don’t need to be told that until you learn how to do it then you won’t see it from us.

That’s called a temper tantrum. And I can’t very well tell you “don’t throw a tantrum” if the adults in your life consistently throw tantrums of their own.

I’m putting this down in words for you because you’re going to get a LOT of terrible advice if you ever have children. You’ll be told to hit the hitters, bite the biters, yell at the yellers, and that it’s okay to say “I’m going to ignore you if you ignore me”.

You’ll be told to be a horrible example to your children instead of a good one. You’ll be told to make their life SO unpleasant that they choose to discover good behavior in the hopes that the adults in their lives will stop pitching a fit over every little thing.

And I’m hoping that you’ll be able to remember back to your childhood and see me as being a very good example of ignoring very bad advice.

I respect you because I want to teach you to respect others, and because I believe that a good and consistent example is more powerful than a bad one.

I respect you because I know that you need to see what respect looks like, and you need to be told what respect looks like, and that you need to see it often enough to absorb it and imitate it rather than memorizing nonsense lines of some play of power that adults supposedly have over children.

I show you respect because I believe that all human beings deserve to be respected, even when they are having a hard time. And because I want to earn your true respect rather than demanding you recite lines that you have memorized.

I don’t want you to use grabbing hands. I don’t want to demand respect from you. I want you to use asking hands. And I want to earn the respect that I feel is due. I cannot demand from you that you ask from me. When I demand from you all that you learn is to demand from me.

I need to be a true example of respect in order for you to learn to give true respect.

<3 Mama

The Calm Place

Dear Kids,

There is a place that I take each of you frequently. A quiet place. A calm place. A place where time has no meaning. It is a place that I carry you to when you are infants, that you toddle to as a toddler as I hold your hand. A place that I follow you to as you become older and understand how to get there. A place that as a young adult you’ll ask me the directions to, and a place that you will return to as an adult when you’re off in the world alone. A place that you will be able to go to when you are very very old in order to feel close to me when we are no longer able to be close in this world.

We go there in the bright light of the day. We go there in the deepest darkest quietest hours of the night. We go there together no matter what else is happening. We’ll put everything down and find our way there together. Homework, dinner going cold on the stove, the shopping cart full of groceries, the argument where you started hitting each other. The day’s plans. The party. The boat ride. The craft project. The Easter Egg hunt.

I leave my warm sleepy bed to come hold you in my arms as look for that place in the middle of the night when it is hard to find and when you keep trying to lead me in the other direction.

Your father pulls over to the side of the road when we are driving, so that we can help you find your way there.

It is the calm in the storm. The calm inside of each of us. The calm that soothes away the anger, the sadness, the hurt, the fear.

When you rage in a tantrum, I carry you there. I do not “ignore bad behavior”. I hold you close and whisper quiet things to you until you hold me close as well so that we go find that place together.

When you cry out at night to nurse, I snuggle you in my arms and we find that place.

When you come home from school in a bad mood, I put your homework aside and ask you to take me there so that you can lead the way.

I want the path to be so deeply worn that no weeds ever have a chance to grow over it and hide the way. I want you to understand the steps that will take you there so that you can find your way there with your eyes closed in times of stress and upset. I want you to home in on it as though there is a beacon there to tug you along.

I want it to be the first place you think of when you are sad or angry. And I want you to crave that place like you crave no other. When you are not at ease in life, I want you to feel homesick for this place so that you will seek it out.

Because that place is deep inside your soul. It is called “peace”. And even though it can sometimes seem so very far away or as though it has been wiped out of existence.. It is always there when you need to find it.

This is why I don’t “let you cry it out”. This is why I don’t “put you in time out”. This is why I don’t shun you when you are struggling and having a bad time. This is why I don’t yell  at you when you are yelling at me.

I don’t.. Because I’m too busy getting ready for our journey. Because I’m picking you up to carry you, because I’m reaching for your hand.

I don’t want to “put a stop to that”.

I want to help you find that place that your heart needs to know how to find. So that you will always be able to find your way there from any place in the world and from any place in your heart.

<3 Mama




Let The Seeds of Your Heart Grow

Dear Kids,

I used to get caught up in sadness for all the things that weren’t, whether or not I truly wanted them. Sports I could have tried playing as a kid, a Bat Mitzvah like my Jewish childhood friend, sleep-away summer camp, a lead role in a play, feeling like a princess at a father-daughter dance, going to the prom with a boyfriend that loved me, being a princess in an elaborate wedding.

I never liked sports. I was not Jewish. I was afraid to be away from my parents. I got stage fright. My father didn’t dance. I never had a high school sweetheart and never wanted to go to a dance. And when Alex and I finally marry it will be a piece of paper we each sign, with something silly and personal to commemorate the moment.

These things all just felt like things that I /should/ want, that I /should/ be. Things that I should desire because of my femaleness or because of my age. These were things that everyone around me seemed to want from their lives.

Alex doesn’t open doors for me, instead I mockingly open doors for him. We tackle each other and wrestle and I try to win (and sometimes do). I squish around in the mud outside barefoot in the summer planting seeds. I have an aloe plant growing on the windowsill that soothes all the bites, burns, boo-boos and rashes that happen in this house that we all share. Alex doesn’t buy me vases of cut flowers, he buys me seeds to plant and grow. I birth babies from my body without the desire for medication, and I nurse them at my breast. I am a reader of books, a  doodler of little animals and aliens and flowers and butterflies.

Not because I have ever felt that these are things that I should want or that I should do. But because these are the the little seeds of my heart that grow as they may.

I’m no princess.

I am me.

And although sometimes I think I might like to experience some of those things that others do.. There’s a freedom in understanding that this is MY life. These are the things that grow well in this life of mine. This is comfort, this is joy.

This is not a script written by someone else, for someone else, that could be filled by anyone. This is me.

And you are you. With your life unfolding in front of you. Maybe you will be a princess. Maybe you’ll splash through mud. Maybe you’ll do both. Maybe you’ll be a motocross racer and a rock star, or a quiet librarian. Maybe you’ll have a green thumb. Maybe you’ll love animals more than plants. Maybe you’ll gravitate to technology. Maybe you’ll be a magician, a scientist, a landscaper, a sanitation worker, a police officer.

Do not try to be someone other than who you are. Do not try to be odd for the sake of oddness, or the same for the sake of similarity.  Do not try to be the thing that I want, or that your grandmother or cousin or father wants. Try to be the things that YOU want to be. Try new things, and see which ones make your heart happy. And when people try to discourage you, keep in mind that they are thinking of their own limitations and not yours.

Let the seeds of your heart grow as they may, and find joy in discovering exactly who you are.

<3 Mama

There Is No Book About You.

Dear Eldest,

When you were an infant I read books on ways to try and get you to sleep better, longer, and more. All of the ideas seemed sound. And none of them worked. They failed. Miserably.

Then when you were a toddler I read a book that made so much sense. It was written by a pediatrician who had obviously had extensive experience with children. It was full of generalizations that made sense and strategies that seemed brilliant.

I tried one of them that very day. A strategy that was supposed to show you that I understood how you felt, through imitating your actions and your language when you were upset.

It failed. Miserably.

The book went on to say that for some children it would need to be toned down. So I toned it down.

It failed. Miserably.

You taught me that for all the books in the world about all the kids in the world, there is no book about you. It’s not that you are different or weird. It is that you are you. And one of the things that makes you “you” is that you notice when I am not responding to you as you, but rather as an obstacle to a goal.

With you, and then with your siblings after having gotten to know you.. I step outside of the things that I have read written by people who have never met you. I cna get ideas and inspiration from those books, those websites, those stories that other parents tell. I can listen to advice that other give. I can seek out advice and ideas.

I can’t squeeze you through a method that has never met you and that cannot take you into account. I cannot tell you who you are and how you should respond to the things that happen all around you. I cannot form you to my wishes or my ideals. I can influence you. I can teach you. I can guide you. I can love, support, nurture and safeguard you.

You have weaknesses that I can recognize that are different from my own, and strengths that I could never imagine possessing. Your imagination gravitates to things that I could never guess at. Your heart is inspired by things that would never touch me as they touch you. You are immune to some of the things that hurt me when I was a child, but so very sensitive to some things which never bothered me.

I know you well, spending so much time with you each day. I know you well, having met you a moment after you were born from my body. I know you well having carried and fed you through your infancy and having slept by your side for your youngest years.

I cannot hold the whole of you inside of my imagination, even knowing you as well as I do. I cannot guess at the things you will feel, discover, grow into, become.

Expecting a book written by a stranger to contain the answers for you.. No..

I have to look for the answers alongside you as you are a child in my care. You will look for your own answers as you become a young adult and discover yourself.

There is no book that can contain you, no pre-imagined role that can define you.

I won’t pigeonhole you into an idea that someone else invented, it’s a waste of time. You’re not a character in a book someone else has written.

You’re a human being.

You always have been.

And I love who you are.



Two Paths in Toddler Discipline

IMG_8901Dear Mister Two-And-A-Half,

You, middle child, you head-butt people because you like it when you are head-butted. You roar at babies because you like being roared at. You push your sister over sometimes because you like being pushed over. You are rough and tumble.

You also listen. “You like being raaaaar’d at, don’t you, Alexander?” I ask. “YEAH!” you say. “I think your sister likes it better when you click your tongue at her like this: Click click click”. And you click click click. She smiles and coos. You smile at both of us. “She falls too fast if you push her back like that. You have to hold her head. See?” and I hold her head and push her over. You watch and you do the same thing, both of you giggling like mad.

It’s hard in the moment sometimes to recognize that the things you do at two and a half are not meant to be scary or hurtful. I can’t see inside your head, and sometimes what an adult sees is that a larger child is being rough with a baby. Sometimes what an adult sees is the need to protect the baby (naturally) and they forget that YOU are still a baby too, and that you need to see, to learn, to understand that there are other ways to do the things that you want to do.

If I yell at you, you will just learn that I yell.
If I punish you, you will just learn to avoid your sister.
If I always keep the two of you apart, you’ll never  be close.

So as hard as it can be sometimes, I breathe. I ask myself “what is it that you need to learn right now?” and I show you.. With the understanding that I may need to show you many times before you’ll understand.

Sometimes I have to pick your sister up, or pick you up to keep both of you safe and happy.

Usually, though, you learn so quick and remember so well.

Sometimes I think about that path not taken. I think about how I could simply consider your actions malicious. I could yell. I could be angry. I could point at a corner in anger and isolate you when in your heart you think that you are simply being playful and doing something that you enjoy. I could tell you “NO! Don’t do that!” repeatedly without telling you what you could do instead. I could choose to be angry, ineffective, vindictive, and attribute knowledge and intentions to your actions. I could push you away and feed the jealousy that you sometimes feel, and pigeon-hole you into the negative emotions and behaviors rather than encouraging you to enjoy being positive and loving.

I don’t want to simply stop you from doing certain things. I want to teach you how to do all the things that you need to know how to do in order to be a close and trusted friend to your sister. To teach you how to be as awesome a big brother to her as your big brother is to you.

There are two paths to discipline with toddlers: To discourage, or to teach. I try to choose “teach” wherever I can.

<3 Mama

Broken Expectations

Dear Alexander-in-the-Middle,

You are two and a half. You are quickly entering the magical realm of not quite understanding how specific language can be.

You’ll have a mental picture in your head of a potato roll. You’ll ask for it using the words you know. “Mommy I want some bread!” and I’ll say “Of COURSE you can have some bread.” and I’ll go to the table and get the oat bread that I know you like, and I’ll give it to you and your little heart and brain will break in the upset and disappointment that I broke the promise to “get you bread” by trying to give you something you did not ask for. In your mind you understand deeply that “bread” is that potato roll that you had pictured in your memory.  Your upset is bigger than it would be if I simply told you “No. No bread.” because I PROMISED YOU BREAD and I BROKE THAT PROMISE.

Or you’ll ask for green pancakes when your brain remembers green as blue, or as polka dots of green, or as something else that daddy made you that weekend that I slept in. And I PROMISED YOU GREEN PANCAKES and I BROKE THAT PROMISE.

Or you’ll ask for a story that you think you remember the name of. “Want to read Yertle, mommy! Want to read Yertle!” and your world will shatter when I go to read you Yertle, because you actually wanted to read that book about the Grinch and the Who’s in Whoville.

Or you’ll ask me to cut your toast and I’ll ask you “strips or triangles” and you’ll say “strips” while you picture triangles, and then you’ll be SO upset that I didn’t listen carefully enough and that I didn’t see that picture in your head.

I used to become upset. It felt like a lack of gratitude. I did what you asked. I went out of my way to do what you asked. I spent energy on doing that thing. All I wanted was to make you happy, and here you are yelling at me and saying “I HIT YOU MOMMY” because you’re so angry at these broken “promises” that you want to hit everything around you.

Now I understand. What you were picturing in your head doesn’t match up with the words you used, you don’t fully understand that more words are needed to paint a picture of what it is that you need. This is something that adults have trouble enough with.

Now I say quietly “I’m sorry you’re disappointed, Sasha. I didn’t understand what you meant by “strips”. And next time I ask him how he wants it cut, I try to draw it with my finger first. Or I try to show him the color, or I change the way I say that he can have bread by turning it into a question. “this type of bread? No? This type of bread? Yes? That’s called POTATO BREAD. It’s made with potatoes. Isn’t that awesome? Yes you can have potato bread. Do you want to eat it like this? It is cold and soft. Do you want it to be warm and crunchy in the toaster?”

You won’t learn to describe things better if I send you to time out over your hurt feelings. You’ll learn through my using my words.

I can use my words, sweet child, so that you can learn to use yours.

<3 Mama

Tragic Violence and Empathy

Dear Kids,

I hear so much about school shootings and about suicides in teenagers that it’s hard for my heart not to hurt and for me not to feel afraid for this world that you are growing up in, where children feel that life revolves around violence. Some people explode inwards and some people explode outwards, and either way the result is horrible.

Every time it happens I hear all the parents around me chattering about “how can we protect our children from this?” as though the threat comes from the outside, as though the children that go on to do these things could never be one of ours. I don’t hear parents asking themselves “how can we make sure our children never do this?”  We seldom hear anything outside of the same old pat answers about why kids go on to do these things. “Video games”, “guns”, “black leather trench coats”, “bullying”.

Of course I ask myself how I can keep you safe. But I also ask how I can keep you safe from becoming someone so sad, so angry, so frustrated, so explosive, so isolated, so.. any of those things, that you could put yourself and others at risk? Every one of these people who have gone on to kill others.. They’ve been a child at one point. They’ve been small. They’ve been fed and nurtured by someone. They’ve grown from infancy through toddlerhood, into children, they’ve passed through classes in school, and they’ve emerged on the other side desperate and unhappy and vengeful and scared and destructive and not caring about the lives of others or of themselves.

As I read to you at night, I look at the pages of the books and at the characters in the books and I ask you how you think the characters feel. Do they look happy? Do they look sad? Do they look angry? What do you think the character wants right now? What do you think the character needs?

When you hit each other or when you hurt each other I do not scold you, I try to come stand beside you and I say “Look at him. Look at how he is crying. When you cry that way, how do you feel inside?” And I hold your hurt sibling and you both close.

I know that you were angry when he took your toy.
I know that you were hurt when she hit you.
I know that you were hurt when he wouldn’t share.
I know that you are hurting now as you listen to each other cry.
I know that you are hurting for yourself.
I also know that you are hurting for your brother/sister because you love them too.
I know that you had a lot of anger inside of you.
I know that each of you is small right now and you’re still learning.

What can you do different next time?

I explore different things with you. We breathe together. Both deep breaths, and short ones. We hum. We punch punching bags. We stomp our feet. You hit my hands with balled up angry fists and you hit the punching bag and we talk about those things that you feel so very deeply that they just need to come out. We shake up akla seltzer tablets in old 35 millimeter film canisters and stand back while they pop open and shoot themselves into the air. We poke holes in the lids to see how many holes there need to be for it all to come out slowly. We talk about letting our feelings out and keeping them in. We talk about safe things and dangerous things. We smash ice cubes with rubber mallets and then we try to put them back together. One bang! Big pieces. Two bangs! Smaller pieces. Five bangs! It’s ice dust quickly melting on the hot summer pavement. We grow plants, we tend to them, we pull up weeds. We learn together about creation and destruction. About nurturing and neglect. We talk about how we feel when we eat certain foods, about how we feel when we watch too much TV, about how we feel after we’ve just played at the playground or chased each other around. About how the different parts of our lives flow together across the day.

When you are angry and yelling at me, I ask if you’re angry. I ask how you want to let the anger out. I ask you about the consequences of different ways of letting the anger out.

Sometimes your anger bubbles up and out in threats where you tell me that you want to hit me or hurt me and you tell me how very angry you are and how you want to do something terrible or how you want me to go away and never come back.

I ask you simply and calmly “What do you think would happen if you did that?” “How do you think I would feel? How do you think you would feel?”  Do you maybe mean that you’re really really really upset because you can’t have what you want, and you just want to tell me how upset you are?”

Often your eyes suddenly come back into focus on the world outside of your hurt and your anger, and you look into my eyes, all those hard and hurting emotions spent out.

“I feel like I want to tell you that I hate you. But I don’t really hate you. I just hate that you won’t let me have ice cream right now because I really really want it so bad that I feel like maybe I hate you. I just really want ice cream.”

And I tell you that I understand because a long time ago back I was small too, and when you’re small everything feels soooo big. And that even as you grow things will feel so big and so huge. That when something feels really really big I’ll talk to your dad or I’ll talk to Gramma and they’ll help me see how small it really is, or they’ll help me remember to let the feelings out.

What I don’t do is this: I won’t get angry at your anger. I won’t get angry at your upset. I won’t get angry at your desire to change those things that will not be changed. I will not send you off alone to deal with those hardest of emotions all alone. I won’t send you into time out or tell you that you should be ashamed of your tears. I won’t accuse you of manipulating me when you share your feelings.

I’ll sit there in the room with you while you process the things that you need to process. I’ll keep it about you without making it about me.

Not because I think that this will keep you safe from all of the people out there that are hurting or that are mentally ill.

But because I want to teach you that you never need to explode that way. You do not need to explode into yourself. You do not need to explode out of yourself. All of those Really Really Big Things You Feel Inside have reasons and meaning and we can talk about them and get them all out, and if they’re ever too big for you and I to handle, I will help you find the help that you need.

I will focus on you right now as each of you grow.

I can teach you how to let stress and anger out. I can teach you to seek help if you are ever overwhelmed. I can teach you to let go and breathe deep. I can teach you empathy. I can repeat it often enough that I hope you will always remember: You can talk to me. About anything. I will listen.

When you talk to me about the bully in kindergarten, I will listen. When you talk to me about the music teacher you have a crush on, I will listen. When you talk to me about how anger or sadness make you feel, I will listen.  I will listen when you are two and a half and tell me that you want to hit me. I will listen when you are six and tell me your sad and angry or fearful things. I will listen when you are fourteen, sixteen, twenty, thirty..

I will do this not because I view you as a ticking time bomb, but because I see you as a child young and eager to learn. Because I see you as someone struggling to control your strong childhood emotions. Because I see the progress each of you makes as you move through the different stages of your life.

I don’t believe it’s enough to leave every child to their own devices to navigate their emotions and hope that they’ll come out with a healthy understanding of the things that they feel. I see your childhood as the time to teach you how to cope with the strength of your feelings, how to speak and be listened to, how to seek out resources and how to solve problems. I don’t believe it’s wise to wait until the child hits their teens before we talk about difficult emotions. I don’t think that it’s fair to tell you as a child to tantrum somewhere else alone, then ask you as a teenager to talk to me.

These beliefs do not come from wanting to make sure you never grow up to be a dangerous person, they come from wanting to make sure you grow up a happy and resilient one.

<3 Mama

** This post is about my personal experience with the children that I have. There are many children that suffer from mental illness which cannot be kissed or hugged away. These kids need help from the outside.