When Things Get Hard

“It looks great!”  I tried to reassure you. “Your, “a,” is touching the belt line and the foot line and it’s a complete circle! I’m going to draw a star next to this one because it’s my favorite.”

I swear I saw your eyes roll as I drew a star next to a little “a” in your handwriting book.  

“I don’t like it. I’m done with this stinky book!” you snapped. 

I sighed. So much for my “summer school” attempt. 

My sweet Hadley, I have had many conversations with you about what to do when things get hard. I always tell you, “when things get hard, that’s when our brain grows and that’s when we learn. If we aren’t ever challenged, we won’t ever learn. Things would just be easy and boring.”

I tried to explain to you that day that your ability to persevere is the important thing, even more so than a perfect, “a.” I’m not sure you wanted to hear it at the time or any of the other times we’ve talked about, “trying your best,” but my hope is that it will eventually stick. 

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“I want Mama to do it,”  your two-and-half-year old brother irrecoverably yelled. His face was flushed and his red curls matted. A tired tear fell down one chubby cheek while both his hands clutched the hem of my shirt. 

“Okay. I’ll brush your teeth buddy, but you have to listen and do exactly as I say or Daddy will do it.” I wiped the tear off his cheek with my thumb. 

Brushing you and your brother’s teeth has always been one of my least favorite things to do, I fully admit to this. It has been a task your daddy sort of unknowingly assigned to himself, along with filing your fingernails, and washing your hair. He has a sort of tenderness and care for these necessary jobs that I just don’t seem to possess. 

Yet lately, John has only wanted me to brush his teeth. Why?!?!?  I brush too vigorously, I’m impatient, and I’m not as thorough. Yet, “I want Mama to do it!” has been a nightly chorus line chimed repeatedly at bedtime for the past several weeks. 

Brushing your teeth is hard! I don’t like it. But I do it (at least I do it when your dad can’t or he argues it’s my night to do so), otherwise you might end up with “green pirate teeth.” 

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“I don’t ever want to be a mom!” you declared.

Your cheeks were pink and stained with tears as you lay on your bed, clutching your blankets, curled up in a fetal position. 

“It’s not fun!” you continued. “You never have any fun.” The sobbing persisted and I sat there on the edge of your bed. 

“Of course it’s fun!” I reassured you. “But being a mom can also can be hard. Sometimes that doesn’t look like fun, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.” 

I wanted to tell you so many things that night, but sleep was definitely high on the priority list for you. You are also starting kindergarten next week and I have some additional thoughts on that I’d like to share.

Being a mother is the hardest thing I have ever done. It doesn’t stop being hard, I am beginning to gather. But I think the rewards and benefits of parenting begin to reveal themselves little by little. It’s as if life doesn’t want to give you too much sweetness at one time, so it rations it for you, making it last, helping you avoid a stomach ache. 

I must confess something to you. I don’t like when things are hard. I’ve never thought of myself as much of a “go getter.” I like to be comfortable. But motherhood is the singular thing that continues to be hard and it is the one thing I feel I have shown the most grit and perseverance for in my entire life.

I continue to get up each and every day and be a mother. Some days are hard, but it is a commitment I made and I am never giving up. I can never give up. This seems to me to be the very definition of having grit, perseverance, or “to keep going when the going gets tough.” So you see Hadley, if someone like me, can do one of the hardest tasks I’ve blessed with undertaking. I know, you can do hard things as well. 

Being a mom might not seem like its fun to you. That’s because I’m putting in a lot of hard work right now developing your character and helping build your sense of “what’s right,” in the world. I lay boundaries. I say no. I am not here so you can just have fun. I am here to raise you. I am here to help shape and mold who you are, this doesn’t always come out as fun, but believe me, it is rewarding. Being a mom is not easy, but it can be fun, despite what it may look like.

You are about to start kindergarten next week and so you’ll embark upon a long journey in school and education. I wanted to share some additional thoughts with you that I hope you’ll someday find helpful. 

It’s going to get hard. There are going to be some things you don’t know. There will be some people who aren’t entirely kind. 

You have some extraordinary gifts. You’re an encourager, you are empathetic. You tell your friends, “believe in yourself.”  You must tell yourself this as well. 

When your brother recently fell out of bed one night, you were quick to comfort and remind him, “It’s okay John. One time I rolled out of bed and my sheets came with me!” You chuckled and turned to your side, falling quickly asleep. 

My hope for you as you start your kindergarten year and things get hard (and I hope they do) is to remember this: Be the best you. There is no one else like you, Hadley. You’re it. You are the only you. God made you with care, paying attention to every detail. You are wonderfully made. 

Persevere,  just keep trying. You might not have the hang of something yet, but you will. Dory had it so right when she kept saying, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

Be kind. Be patient. Continue to be the encouraging classmate who looks for someone who needs a friend. 

Most of all, try the hard thing. It might be saying “hi” to someone new, or taking the time to add details to your work. It might be to practice writing your lowercase letter “a.” But I promise you, the reward is worth the risk. Even if you fail. Because succeeding was never the reward in the first place, it was the effort put forth and that fact that you gave your all.

I hope you see when you are older, even though I wasn’t a big fan of brushing you and your brother’s teeth, that I did my best to raise you and I love you. I have grit when it comes to being your mom. I will keep coming back. I will wake up day after day, I will fight, I will not give up on you. Being a mom is my hard thing. You are the sweetest gift life has rationed to me.

Take the risk kid, write the lowercase “a.” Write it a million times, because soon it will become easy, it will become rote, and it will be shaped the way you’d always hoped it would be. 

 

Baby John

A letter to my son on his 2nd birthday:

Baby John (you too old for me to call you that? Too bad, I’m sticking with it as long as I can),

I’m sitting here at the kitchen table eating your leftover birthday cake, while I try and think of how to even begin to write about you. I’m still trying to figure out who you are or what you’ll be like. Perhaps it’s because you are our second child or because you are a boy, but I feel like it’s taken me awhile to get to know you.

You can be, “all boy,” when you want to be: splashing in puddles or picking up chubby fistfulls of dirt and and tossing them into your dump truck. You like trucks, dinosaurs, and building or testing out your Hot Wheels track. I can see your collection of baseball hats growing before my eyes, as you remind me to put your hat on your head before you take even one step out the door. Yet, you enjoy playing babies, singing gently to yourself as you build Legos, stack flowers, or set up the Calico Critters’ houses with your sister. You enjoy big things like garbage trucks, ferry boats, trains and the ocean. Yet, when the vehicles honk their horns or zoom on by, or when the ocean waves crash onto the beach, you hang on to our shirts for dear life, demand to be picked up, and exclaim, “too loud!”

I’m learning more about you everyday and that’s the beauty of being your mom. Each day your surprise me with something new. Things I never want to forget, like the way you say dinosaurs (DIE-DOORS) or “big truck!” You are funny, smart, determined and thoughtful.

I have rocked you to sleep almost every night since you were born. It’s official, you are now a two-year-old. I don’t care. I will still rock you every night for as long as I can, because I know in an instant I’ll blink and you’ll come home from high school one afternoon and make yourself two to three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like your dad used to. You like it when I sing while we rock and you request songs every night. Lately, it has been Jingle Bells (yes during the summer) but you also enjoy this made up song I pieced together. You call it, “Hada Sleeping.” It is basically about how every one of your family members is sleeping and that you should be too. I always start with Hadley sleeping first and then list off all the other family members you love. It is your favorite song at bedtime by far.

I love how your left ear folds up when you fall asleep against me. I gently unfold it as I lay you down in your crib. You have “daddy’s pillow,” so you can sleep soundly. Your head of red, soft, frizzy hair is sweaty on one side from being up against me. Will you keep your red hair? Not sure, but I secretly hope so. You roll over to your right side clutching your once swaddle blankets. Those blankets never really served their purpose as swaddle blankets because you broke free from them early on. However, you’ve kept them as your “blankies” for sleep or cuddling ever since you could hold on to them.

We have this game we like to play where you’ll try to bite my nose. I love to feel your little teeth begin to clamp down before I quickly move my nose back. We both giggle with delight.

I love the way you wake up. Mostly always happy. Some mornings you wake up singing like Maui, “You’re welcome, the tides, the seas, the sun!” Today, you decided, likely since you are two now, that you would wake up, climb out of your crib, walk to the playroom and begin driving your trucks around. Your dad and I woke up to the sound of you playing.  When daddy walked in the playroom, you shared with delight, “I climbed out!”

You continue to amaze us with your ability to converse and how quickly your language has developed. Everyday it seems is a new phrase is used. You constantly ask what certain noises are, like the start of a car or squawk of a bird.

Peanut butter. You cannot get enough.

You are steady and consistent when your sister and I are moody and clashing. I have a feeling you will always be that peace when we need it. We love you John.

Here’s a little blurb I wrote about you one morning and I’ll end with it:

Little by little, He scooches closer to me on the couch. His leg rests on my leg, his foot hangs over my knee, wiggling to its own beat. Dori is being found on tv. A smile grows on his face and his head turns towards me. “Mama,” he sweetly whispers with a scrunch of his shoulders. As if, the delight he feels in my name is too much to contain. He’s up early with me before anyone else and it’s our special time.

Love you buddy,

Mama

Pink Rocking Horse

Getting the keys to our new house was so exciting…until I realized that it also meant packing and purging the house of anything we didn’t want to bring to the new place.  And so began the long and tedious task of cleaning out the kids’ rooms. I had decided it was time to get rid of one item in particular of my daughter’s- her pink rocking horse. She had received it for Christmas from her Aunt Leslie when she was one and now that she was four-and-a-half, she was quite big for it. My son who was one-and-a-half, had taken a liking to the horse as well. Yet when he rocked on it, he came darn near close to tipping over backwards, or forwards for that matter. He also had his fair share of toe smashes under the wooden rocker.  It had taken its share of beatings the past few years, as was constantly ridden and dragged around the house. Its mane had been brushed and pulled out, the saddle askew, and the reins pulled to capacity. However, it still rocked, neighed when you pressed the button on its ear, and had the softest pink fur. It was a good item to give away. I knew it wasn’t a toy I could just take away in the middle of the night and my daughter would never notice. She would definitely ask me about it the next day or so and be heartbroken that I just took it away. However, it was time. The pink horsey, “Peaches,”  seemed more like a hazard more than anything else and at this point and I didn’t really want it coming to the new house with us.

My husband and I gathered up the items for our first of many Goodwill runs and knew this was the perfect time to take the rocking horse. We figured we could go as a family. It had been endless rain for an entire weekend and this seemed like a good opportunity to take a car ride and get out of the house.  My husband knelt down as we were getting our shoes on to go, “Hadley, you’ve had your pink horse for a long time, huh?” he gently smiled at her.

“Yeah,” she replied with a hard nod.

“Well, you got him when you were really little and you’re not so little anymore. You’ve gotten kind of big for the horse, it isn’t safe for you to ride anymore and it is not safe for your brother John to ride on either.”

“Well, I can just pull him around. See, like this.” Hadley demonstrated how she pulls the horse around. She bit her bottom lip and tightly pulled the rein. The horse bumped and glided along the tile floor in our kitchen following her thumping feet.

“Yes, but it can hurt your toes and will get banged up if we keep pulling it like that. It’s time that we give the horse away to another little girl who will be able to ride it and enjoy it,” he explained resting his hand on the horse’s matted white mane.

Hadley sighed, “Okay.” She turned to the horse and knelt down. Looking into its eyes and stroking its mane she whispered these sweet words to Peaches, “You have to go away now, but don’t be scared. It’s going to be alright. You have to be brave. You will get to play with another girl.” She gave it kisses and hugged its head tight. My husband and I exchanged tear-filled glances at one another. Have we made a mistake? Maybe, we don’t need to get rid of it just yet.

We buckled the kids into their car seats and  loaded the boxes, bags and rocking horse into the back of the car. “We don’t have to give it away,” my husband whispered to me.

“No, we need to,” I reassured him..and myself. “It’s time.”

Sorrowful sighs were heard from the backseat on our way to Goodwill. “Everything okay Hadley?” We would ask glancing back.

“Yeah… I’m just sad I’m going to miss my horse,”  she explained. “But I’m happy another girl will get to use it.”

“We are definitely stopping for frozen yogurt after this” I thought. “She is being so sweet about the whole thing and it might help alleviate some of the guilt I feel. “

We backed up to the Goodwill drop-off and my husband jumped out to help unload. Hadley suddenly pleaded, “Can you unbuckle me so I can see?”

“Of course,” I said reaching back and unsnapping her buckles. She quickly turned around in her carseat, popped up on her knees and peered over the backseat. The Goodwill employee and my husband unloaded a couple bags and boxes and placed them in a large rolling bin, and finally the pink rocking horse was laid on top.

“Goodbye Peaches,” Hadley waved.

I was surprised at the emotion I felt. Tears stung my eyes as Hadley turned around and I buckled her back in. It was as if we were letting a little piece of her childhood go. My mind flashed back to a scene from the movie Inside Out, where Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong sacrifices himself down in the depths with all those faded memories so that Joy can get out on the flying wagon. He waves to Joy smiling as he slowly fades and disappears to be forever forgotten. I balled my eyes out during that movie by the way-particularly that scene.

We’ve been at our new home for almost two months now and she hasn’t mentioned Peaches, the pink rocking horse, once. As her mom I find that the grief I feel as old memories fade from her mind, is replaced with the sweetness of new memories. It makes this time of my kids’ young childhood all the more precious. There are certain things I am surprised that my daughter has already forgotten, as I will never forget. I will never forget that pink rocking horse and the joy her face held when she rode it for the first time or the way she held it’s fuzzy face and whispered her goodbyes for the last time. I hold these moments close to my heart and know that the fact that they are fleeting is what makes them so precious.