As You Are

My daughter is going swimming with her classmates every Wednesday for the next four weeks.  It stirred memories of a time when I was in my teens, and on a similar outing with my schoolmates. Swimming with classmates wasn’t a usual occurrence so being on view to everyone in very little clothing was embarrassing.  I wore a bikini, in which I felt wholly uncomfortable, as if my body was simply a mannequin. Certainly my soul had shrunk into the darkness of a tilted awareness.

In those days, I was aware only of my pale skin, my thin ankles, of the knobby bones on the backs of my feet, of the bump in my nose, and my hip bones. Parts of me magnified by my peers and reflected onto my already shattered self-esteem. I remember sitting at the side of the pool, arms huddled around my waist in an effort to appear smaller, less noticeable. The only reason I had bought the bikini was because my next door neighbor had one in the same design but in nicer colors; blues and purples. I coveted hers whereas the colors of mine were like true leopard spots and I didn’t really like it; I felt exposed.

Growing up, I’d ask my Mum if I was pretty, and she’d always reply that I wasn’t chocolate box pretty, like Lisa Miles, who was classically pretty and popular, but that was it.  No explanation as to what “chocolate box pretty” meant.  It took me a long time to grow into my face; like an ugly duckling. I was never convinced by my Mum’s words. Not that she meant any harm, perhaps she didn’t really identify with my teen self. There’s a whole story there about generational happenings but I won’t go into that.

So, my daughter comes to me this morning in her swimsuit which is a little low cut in the front but is okay for an eight year old. I make sure it still fits since it’s winter and the last time she wore it was in the summer. It fits just fine but she tugs at the top and is concerned about revealing the freckle on her chest. I give her a big hug and tell her that it’s beautiful. That she’s beautiful. From the brown fleck in her iris, to her chest freckle; it all makes her unique and gorgeous. She gives me a big hug and skips away.

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Among the benefits of age is wisdom. I’ve grown into myself so much that I’m able to accept the bumps and bony bits as part of me, and I love them because they make up the whole, and that whole is pretty amazing. In a world where judgments lurk in the shadows on magazine covers, or commercials, or on social media, it’s important for my daughter to know that she is wonderful just as she is. She may not be chocolate box pretty but I would never tell her; it would be a chink of doubt in her otherwise fierce soul. She needs to know for herself that she is beautiful no matter what marks or quirks she has, and no matter what her peers may tell her. And if I can help build her esteem then I will tell her truthfully that I think every single cell in her body is absolutely wonderful.

My son is a little harder to convince but I’m working on that.

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Mentally Parental

I don’t often write about another large part of my journey, that of being a parent. But the topic is pleading with me so fine, here I go.

Our kids are the first in the family to be born close enough to each other that they suffer and love being playmate siblings. My husband’s sister was seven years younger and I was an only child. My Dad was ten years older than his sisters, my in-laws had large gaps or like me, were the solitary kid. Only my Mum had a brother with whom she was close but that was mostly a fear bonding created by what I can only assume was a violent household.

We have one of each:  A boy and a girl and I love them both with my whole heart and more. As Big Nut Brown Hare says, “…to the moon and back.”

Our daughter is a physical, emotional and spiritual manifestation of all that my husband and I could ever have wanted in ourselves. She has a strong sense of who she is and what she can do. What she cannot do, she will try and try to achieve until she gets it. She is focused, self-assured and confident.

Our son is the opposite; he has a low self-esteem, is reluctant to try or do most anything new, physically or mentally. And when he is made to, it’s the end of the world. He gives up easily, has admitted that he doesn’t believe in himself (but I’m not sure he really understands what that means.) Last night, after a particularly trying day, he wrote a note and stuck it to his bedroom door:

“There is room for 1 person in this room because no-one loves Sean”

The thing is, he is so loved. And I see what he doesn’t: creativity, a quick mind, a visual learner. He is capable of so much more than he realizes and we flounder to help him understand. I am pretty good at motivating myself and seeing the benefit of affirmations, quotes and the like; they nudge the soul to realize its potential. But when I’m with my son and I’m attempting a heart-to-heart, all those wonderful phrases disappear. It’s baffling. He’s uncomfortable with praise and lord knows, we are not the kind of parents to go overboard with it. We give praise where it is due, and guidance as best we can.

Our son is the culmination of the parts of my husband and I that, when we look back on our lives, we feel we could have changed. We were both drifters, with undefined goals, but unlike our son, the springboards that we jumped from into our own futures were not so well-cared for. We see that in our histories, we have hindsight, and like so many other parents now and before, we have a mental chime that reminds us not to be like our mothers and fathers. We seek to show more affection, feel more connected, give the kids more avenues to choose from. Provide them a stable, nurturing foundation with which to carry solidly down the road.

So whaddya do when you have one of each? One who you know is aware of the others’ ease of accomplishing, of figuring out, of taking on a challenge and getting it right? How do you raise him up without having him step on a pedestal, content with that much? Fearing going any higher because to do so could mean failure? Do you conceal your frustration, temper your anger, speak sweetly? Or do you let it fly after you’ve encouraged, cajoled and invited, then moved onto ultimatums, delivering news of consequences should the responsibility not be carried out? Do you expose the honesty when you’ve hit that wall? And for what cause, for what benefit? Shouting and yelling serves only to confuse and reflect your anger back to you, but when all else has failed, it becomes the last raw option.

Certainly we don’t give up. We continue the back and forth, push and pull, throw in the towel, pick up the gauntlet that is parenting. Keep on loving and keep on showing love. Carry on guiding, making them do the things they don’t want to because in the end, it’s more than we had. Like the familial chain it is, it will go on and on.

There. God, this has been a long drawn-out affair which proves to me that being a parent is the hardest job; it’s a lifetime commitment with deep emotional roots. The manual is blank and confusing with every page, and you can’t skip ahead. You can flick backwards but the things you applied a few chapters ago may not work in the present.