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“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

-Dr. Seuss

Beginnings and endings are everywhere.

Beginnings and endings surround parents.  The moment a child enters your life, something begins while something else ends.  The overwhelming joy of pregnancy comes to a grinding halt only to open the door to emotions that words simply cannot capture.  That first cry, those first tears, that very first physical connection…all of these moments are life changing.  And yet they end to make way for something new.

The beginnings and endings are perhaps the only constant in this parenting gig.  Something always leaves us in tears, but that next something new brings joy and pride beyond compare.

And so we just keep swimming.  It’s all we can really do.

I could feel the emotions long before she uttered a sound.  As if overnight, the piercing heat that left us restless, tossing, and just a little bit cranky gave way to a cool breeze.  Suddenly the water sparkled just a little bit more, the sun felt just a little less intense, and the days passed just a little bit faster.

Time was slipping away from all of us.

Wrapped in a comforter that once seemed unnecessary and snuggled into my chest, our heartbeats seemed to align.  Together we were one again, if just for a few moments.  Her eyes half open, mine half closed, we attempted to drift off together,

A quiet sob broke our trance and opened the door to tears stored up for far too long.  I held her close as her little body began to heave.  I soothed her emotions as hiccups escaped her throat.  And then finally, she spoke…

“I don’t want to go home.  I feel happy here.  I feel confident here.  I feel safe and good here.  And our family is here.”

Tears streamed down my face as I reached for strength that I didn’t think I had.  Darkness provided a much-needed barrier so that she couldn’t see my pain.  For a few minutes, I just held her close.

“I understand how you feel.  I miss our family too.  And I feel safe here too.  And we can always come back here.  But soon we will go home to our friends and our house and the life that we love, even if we love this life too.”

“But I love it here.  I’m healthy here.  I have no asthma here.  I don’t want to leave here.”

Beginnings and endings are everywhere.

At long last our eyes met as I gently stroked her tear stained cheeks, red from the heat of emotion.

“I know exactly how you feel, sweet girl.  I felt the same way at the end of every summer when I was a kid.  Endings are hard.  Saying goodbye to something so amazing feels impossible in the moment, even if the next thing will be really great.”

With that, the floodgates opened again.  Giant, heaving tears escaped as she attempted to process my words – goodbye will happen, even if we don’t want it to.

“Let me tell you something I’ve learned along the way.  Goodbye feels final, like something wonderful is coming to an end, even if we’re not ready.  Goodbye feels overwhelming, like we can’t make it stop.  But we don’t have to say goodbye.  Instead of feeling like the fun is ending, we can start looking forward to the next time.  And until next time happens, we have millions of happy memories to make us smile along the way.”

For a moment, she was silent.  Twirling her own hair in one hand and mine in the other, her breathing finally steadied.  The sobs gave way to gentle sighs and, within moments, she was fast asleep on my chest.

In an effort to put off yet another ending, I lingered in the moment.  Holding her close and breathing in the scent of her sun-drenched skin, I replayed the moments that will get us through the long winter days.  The crabs we caught with our own two hands, the waves we jumped, the sandcastles carefully crafted, and the seashells we collected…all of these small moments will feel enormous when we need them.  All of them will usher us into the next beginning.

But until then, we will have to face the ending.  With heavy hearts and tears in our eyes, we will have to say goodbye to the summer that brought us peace, togetherness, and happiness.

Until then, we will have to embrace new beginnings and hold our memories close to our hearts.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

One day our hearthome and our physical home will be one and the same.

But until that day, we will celebrate the beginnings and endings that make us who we are – one little family of four with four exceptionally big hearts.

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Act your age in the age of worry

And say, “Worry, get out of here!”

-John Mayer

“It’s not the same when Daddy travels.  Who will be big and strong for us?”  Tears form at the corner of her eyes, visible only by the moonlight shining through her window.

“I understand.  It feels different.  We miss him.  A lot.  But Mommy is big and strong too and Mommy would do anything to keep you safe.”

“But Daddy protects us and our house.”  With that, she sobs the big, heaving sobs that only a child can muster.  Curled up in my arms and clutching her lovey tight, she lets it all out.  Within minutes, she will fall fast asleep, leaving me to take on her worries.  If I could, I would take all of her worries, all of her hurts, and all of her skinned knees.  If I could, I would cry her tears for her…

Everybody has worries.  Big worries, small worries, worries that last a lifetime worries…at the end of the day, they’re all just worries.

While parents worry about worldly things like safety, health, and finances, kids have worries too.  Their worries might not seem as big or as imminent as those of adults, but they feel big and overwhelming to the kids who hold them close.

Kids need a way to process their worries.  They need to let them out, hold them close, and revisit them until they’re done.  They need to work through their worries as they grow so that their worries don’t snowball and become a part of their very identity.

A childhood with a few worries along the way is simply a childhood.  But a childhood marked by worries is sad, overwhelming, and full of loss.

Childhood should be marked by fun, excitement, learning, and play.  Because every child deserves days full of play and nights full of dreams about the days that brought smiles to their faces.

Calming stones can help.

Visuals work well when helping children process difficult emotions, and the power of touch is an incredible thing.  Sometimes a soft, fuzzy toy is all a child needs to release her stress and a long, warm hug can truly mend the broken heart of a child.

Soft, smooth stones providing a calming feel to the touch give children something to hold onto during times of stress or worry.  Personalizing them with the things that make your kids feel safe and comforted helps them remember that worries are just moments, and that better moments are all around us.

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How to make calming stones:

You will need:

Directions:

Sometimes you just need reminders that help and good feelings are right around the corner.  Calming stones help your child take control of her worries and restore positive emotions when under stress.

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“When people are ready to, they change.”

-Andy Warhol

Hand-in-hand and foot-to-foot we sit at the edge of dock and stare off into the distance.  In the chaos of endings and beginnings, we struggle to find our quiet conversations – the ones that matter the most.

Blanketed in salt from the ocean air that surrounds us and curled up every so slightly more than usual courtesy of the humidity, his sandy hair rustles in the light breeze off the ocean.  The tide seems to change right before our very eyes as the fog finally begins to lift.

For a few minutes, we just sit still.  We watch the water ripple below us without uttering a sound.

Change happens.  Change is hard sometimes, but change does happen.

In a quiet, quivering voice, he finally breaks his silence.

“I miss my house.  I miss Daddy.  I miss everything.”

At four, change is overwhelming.  Displaced and separated from his daddy by way of music, he struggles to make sense of so many changes at once.

Desperate to give them some sense of normal and another slice of life, I brought them to the beach for the summer.  3,000 miles from home, but surrounded by aunts, uncles, and grandparents, they are enveloped in love and safety and independence.  They can ride scooters in the street, run free without worry, and swim in waves that don’t threaten their very existence.

But still, it isn’t home.  And when daddy has to travel, home is safe.  Routine is necessary.  Comfort is everything.

The guilt creeps in as I begin to process the mistakes that I made – the comforts that I forgot.  The Mater Pillow Pet, the pictures hanging on their beds, the special boxes…the things that mommy should have remembered.

“I understand, sweet boy.  I miss him too.  And our house – I miss my room.  But I feel happy here.  We have family nearby for the first time ever.  We can ride in the street and feel safe everywhere.  We don’t have to rush.  We don’t have to worry.  We can just be together.”

Our hands squeeze just a little bit tighter.  We watch a crab creep from rock to rock in search of food.  Slowly and deliberately, the crab hunts.  Laughter breaks our trance when a wave sends the crab into an unexpected flip.  Our eyes meet – mine tired and worried, his tearing up at the corners.

“I know how hard this is for you.  You don’t like change.  You like your routine.  You like to know what’s coming.  You don’t want to wonder…”

The tears begin to roll as he buries his head in my lap.

“I need my regular routine.  I need my Mater pillow – he makes me feel safe.”

My breath catches in my chest.  All of this – this trip, this plan, this location – all of this was done to give them something better.  To help them miss him a little bit less.  To find independence, to play as much as possible, and to simply enjoy the clean air and endless sunsets.

All of this was done to make summer memories that will last a lifetime.

For the most part, it has.  But the adjustment has been hard on my sensitive little boy.  He needs his mommy time.  He needs his quiet moments.  He needs his things that help him feel safe in this world.

And so…I make it happen.

“Let’s order you another Mater Pillow Pet – one to keep here.  Let’s print some pictures to hang on the walls and near your bed.  Let’s stick to your regular schedule and make this home feel like our home.  Let’s spend time making it home.”

With that, his face brightens up.  He speaks in a fast-paced mumble as he thinks about all of the ways that he can make this summerhouse feel like his regular house.  In a few minutes he stops and sighs a deep sigh of relief.  I watch the stress melt away from his little body as he collapses into my lap and smiles his great big smile.

At last, his blue eyes sparkle like the ocean before us.

Change is hard.  Comfort is everything.

In a moment, we are running through the sand playing tag and pointing out boats passing us by.

He stops short and hugs me close.

“I love you, Mommy.  You’re my best Mommy.  And I love the salty sea air and the beach and the playground.”

And just like that, the stress is gone.

Change is hard.  Comfort is everything.

And the quiet conversations are often the ones that matter most.

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“A rustle in the wind reminds us a fairy is near.”
-Author Unknown

I can always tell when something weighs heavily on her sweet little mind.  Her eyes linger on the great outdoors just a little bit longer.  She twirls the very end of the longest strand of her sun kissed brown hair around her finger, slowly bringing it to her cherry red lips and back again.  A heavy sigh escapes…

“Mommy, what if the fairies don’t know I’m spending the summer at the beach?  How will they find me?”

“Hmmm.  What do you think, sweet girl?  Is there a way to let them know?”

“I think they always hear me because I know they like to hide around, but I’m worried they won’t know where to go.”

“Well…they always enjoy the things you leave for them.  What can leave them to let them know?  A shell?”

“I know!  A note!  I can write a note to tell them where to go!”

With that, she carefully wrote a very small note in very small writing fit for a fairy.

Dear Fairies,

I will be in GLP this summer. 

Love, Riley.

“But Mommy?  Where will they live?  I only made them a house here.  They don’t have one there.”

“You know, sweet girl.  It sounds like we might have a project to do.  A fairy needs a beach house, after all.”

A smile crept across her face as her mind wandered to the thoughts of crafting the perfect beach house for her favorite little friends…

To Make a Fairy House:

You need:

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What to do:

Get outside!  Fairies bring us nature and the changing of the seasons.  It’s best to create a fairy house surrounded by fresh air, sunshine, and nature.

Paint!  Try to step back mamas…when we give our children the freedom to create without suggestions or restrictions, their imagination blooms.  Sit back and watch the magic come to life.

Talk.  These quiet time projects are perfect for truly bonding with your children.  In these moments you will find the opportunities to get to know the inner workings of your child.  Turn off those phones…better yet, leave them inside!  These are the moments you don’t want to miss.

Enjoy.  The magic comes and goes over time.  Remember to hold these moments close.  You will need these memories one day…that much I can promise.

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“I can hear her heart beat for a thousand miles

And the heavens open every time she smiles”

-Van Morrison

People say that the heat in Southern California isn’t so bad because it’s a “dry heat”.  The people who say that seem to think that humidity is treacherous, but dry is soothing.  Dry isn’t so hot, they say.

I say they’ve never truly experienced a Southern California spring, summer, or fall.  I say they are unaware of the mean spirited winds that often accompany the dry heat, kicking up dust and dirt and triggering fatigue and illness.  I say they’ve never tried to will themselves to sleep despite the hot wind whipping against the walls of their homes, daring them to check that alarm system just one more time.

There’s something about the combination of heat and high wind that leaves you with a feeling of unease.  Like something isn’t quite right.

On these nights I lie awake, watching the clock.  Come home, I think, please come home soon.

Against my better judgment, and any advice I would ever give, I usually watch TV to ease my racing thoughts during these windy, creepy nights.  In the company of FRIENDS, I can relax and fall off to sleep with thoughts of happiness and laughter.

Last night was such a night.  With the wind rattling the gates and the safety lights flicking on and off in response, sleep seemed impossible.  But when I checked in with my favorite characters, my worries all but disappeared.

Monica spent the better part of the episode chasing down Chandler in an attempt to prove that their relationship was still every bit as exciting as Phoebe’s new blossoming romance.  There was no end to the absurd lengths she was willing to go to in order to remain in the game.  Until, of course, reality slapped her in the face:  Love changes over time, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting.

I found myself thinking back to the beginning of my relationship with my husband, over thirteen years ago.  Sometimes it feels like yesterday, but other times it feels like a lifetime ago.

We were young and busy and always going.  He toured with his band nearly non-stop, and I was a weekend warrior.  Using up personal days at an alarming rate, I lived long weekend to long weekend, jet setting around the country to see him play and catch a couple of days of time together.

It was exciting and fast and always an adventure, as young love often is (with or without the rock and roll).

And then, just like that, we settled into old love.

A calm washed over us and the desperate need to experience every single second of excitement together made way for a slower lifestyle, one with goals beyond the immediate.

Life plans were made.

Old love took over.

Some people fear old love, as if the lack of excitement speaks to a fractured relationship in some way.  They love the chase.  They love the courtship.  They need the desperate longing to be side-by-side…but they don’t know how to build a future together.  They get stuck in instant gratification.

I think all love is worth having but, if forced to choose, I would choose old love any day.

Old love is the accumulation of memories, good and bad.  Old love is snuggling on the couch on a cold, rainy night…a glass of red in hand.  Old love is watching children grow and learn right before our very eyes and wondering how time seems to escape us.

Together, we have faced loss, heartache, excitement, and final triumph over years of infertility.  Twice.  Together we have weathered storms, celebrated success, and reached just a little bit higher.  Together we have built a home, a life, and a family.  Together we have made our dreams come true.

Old love is strength, courage, and determination.

Old love is true love.

Old love is safety and comfort on a windy night.

Old love is happily ever after.

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“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”

-Kahlil Gibran

There’s been a lot of chatter about beauty lately.  Specifically, about the messages our children internalize from media.

We can’t dispute the fact that dolls have changed over time.  My daughter’s Strawberry Shortcake doll is every bit the modern pop star compared to the elfin doll of my youth.  I want to hate it…I really do.  I want to beg the toy makers to stop sexualizing dolls and sending mixed messages to little girls.

But she loves it.  She doesn’t notice that this new version of Strawberry looks anorexic and should probably gulp down a few more of the smoothies that she serves at her café.  She doesn’t know that Strawberry never had dreams of pop stardom when I was a child.  She only knows what she has in her hands.

And she genuinely enjoys playing with these little fruit scented girls.  She likes to set up the market, create lavish parties, and come up with adventures of her own.

It’s hard to maintain anger at emaciated dolls when your daughter only sees the good in them.  And this time to play…this unstructured free play that sends her imagination into overdrive…that’s what it’s all about.

But still – I get it.  I understand why so many people experienced outrage when Disney changed the latest princess and made her a little less tough and a lot more sexual.  I completely understand the frustration.  She was perfect the way she was, why did they have to change her?

There are two sides to every story, however, and I fear that we might be missing an opportunity here.

If we are looking to princesses or fruit scented dolls to teach our daughters about the true meaning of beauty, we are making a mistake.  Princesses, Strawberry Shortcake and company, and all of the other dolls on the market are just pretend.  They aren’t real.  They are meant for play and to stimulate the imagination.

They are not meant to educate our daughters about beauty and body image.  Perhaps they’ve blurred the lines just a little too much, but it is up to us to clarify.  It is our job to raise confident daughters who feel comfortable in their own skin.

It is our job to show our daughters those two very different versions of the same princess and say, “Look!  Strong and confident is good!  Look how silly this new version looks…”

I don’t know about you, but I want my daughter to know that beauty isn’t simply in the face.  Beauty is kindness, empathy, and helping others.  Beauty is laughing for so long that your stomach aches and tears pour from your eyes.  Beauty is love with no end and memories that last a lifetime.

Beauty is a rose covered in raindrops and a pink/orange sunset on a hot summer night.

When I gaze into my daughter’s eyes I see kindness.  I see curiosity, love, empathy, and just a little bit of mischief.  I see the innocence of childhood wrapped up in the love of family.

I see a light in her heart that brightens my day and makes my world complete.

Beauty isn’t found in toys, magazines, or music videos.

True beauty can only be found when you have that light in your heart.

And then, only then, do you see that beauty is everywhere.

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Photo Credit

“We are tied to the ocean.  And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.”

-John F. Kennedy

Few things are more humbling than standing at the very edge of the ocean while the waves crash in one after another with a force that both scares and fascinates.  When the horizon appears endless and the sea deep and mysterious, the little things seem to fade away.

The enormity of the ocean with its mighty, crashing waves has long proved a metaphor for many facets of life.  The waves might symbolize grief for some, hope for others, and longing for those who remain in search of dreams.

And while the ocean is large and overwhelming at times, the ocean can also feel small.  It is the ocean, after all, that keeps us all connected.  In one way or another, the ocean reaches out and makes the world a smaller place.

And yet, I always find it humbling.

Standing side-by-side, our feet bare and our hands connected, Liam and I breathed in the salty air while staring out at an endless line of blue.  He broke the silence with an observation fit for a four-year-old in awe of the greatness before him…

“I think it’s bigger than forever, Mommy.”

“I think you’re right, sweet boy.  I think it is.”

Parenting is full of shifting emotions.  Moods change with the wind when you’re small, and parents have to manage those moods as they arise.

Crash.

There is always something to be done, it seems, and always something that was left undone when darkness finally creeps in.

Crash.

There are amazing moments of awe and wonder followed by less than amazing moments of tears and sorrow.  There are milestones and lost teeth, and there are separation and independence.

Crash.

And then there is the mom guilt.  Oh, how the mom guilt can overtake the soul when a frazzled brain seeks silence and rest.

Did I do enough?  Was I mom enough?  Did I love them all equally?  What about my husband?  Did he feel loved today?

Crash.

Our hearts are pulled in different directions from moment to moment.  Although we know that we love them all with every fiber of our beings, we still wonder which way our hearts went at times.  When the days are long and the nights never-ending, we still manage to question ourselves.

Because parenting is hard sometimes.

Crash.

And we screw up on occasion…

Did I forget to go to the bank again?  Did I fill out that permission slip?  Did I remind that other mom of the allergies?  Is there any milk left in this house?

Crash.

Standing at the edge, where the water crashes into the sand, I am always struck by the sheer insignificance of the little things.  The very things that seem so huge in the moment feel small and meaningless when I look out into the water, wondering what’s really out there.

Perhaps that’s why the ocean calms me.  Perhaps that’s what draws me in.

Life is a series of moments, it seems.  Some feel huge while others feel small, but they are all moments just the same.  Moments can be amazing, but moments can also be stressful.  Moments can trigger both positive and negative emotions, if we let them.

At the end of the line, when the kids are grown and we look back on our parenting journeys, we will piece the moments together one by one like a jigsaw puzzle.  It’s up to us to celebrate and internalize the amazing moments along the way, and let those insignificant, stressful moments roll back with the tide.  Because at some point, all we really have are our memories.  And we get to choose which memories make it into the finished puzzle.

Let go of the mom guilt.  Let the small, stressful moments fade away.  Learn from the mistakes but take comfort in the amazing.

The moments will continue to crash in…it’s up to you to savor the good ones.

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“Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”

-Abraham Lincoln

When something terrible happens, collective outrage is heard across the world.

When the media reports that yet another child has been tormented, beaten, and bullied until that child just couldn’t stand it for one more minute, people gasp.  You hear the chatter on Facebook, on the playground, and just about everywhere else parents congregate.

Why?  Why is this still happening?  We talk about it, we raise our voices (a little bit), and, under the cover of darkness, we secretly devise plans to keep our own children safe.  Because, no way.  Not ours.

But the truth is that it could be ours.  Bullying can happen to anyone.  It happens every single day.

Every 7 minutes, a child is bullied.

The sad fact that most parents face is that many schools, and school districts, look away.  School officials hide behind smoke and mirrors and try to appease anxious parents with “programs” and “policies” that don’t actually seem to lead to change.

Or they insist that it simply isn’t happening.  “Our school is bully free”, they cheerfully state as a young girl is teased and tormented just because she dared to enter the bathroom.

The lack of adequate support leaves some parents worried about the safety their children.  And it leaves many parents feeling helpless.

How are we supposed to send our kids out into the world each day knowing that this kind of hatred not only exists at such a young age, but that it isn’t even taken seriously?

It’s a question that can’t be answered.  There is no easy button on this one.  No matter how loud we make our voices, we can’t cut through the necessary red tape on our own.

But that doesn’t leave us helpless.

We can raise stand up kids.

What the research consistently shows is that ignoring a bully doesn’t work, but standing up for others does.  It’s no longer simply a matter of knowing right from wrong; it’s a matter of internalizing right from wrong, putting our feet in the right place, and standing firm.

We need to teach our children that they do, in fact, have voices, and that their voices count.  We need to practice at home and show them the words to use if they are being teased or bullied, or if they witness it.  We need to model the stance that we want them to take.

We need to raise stand up kids.

Some kids have big groups of friends, some kids have one or two best friends, and some kids are floaters.  It doesn’t matter what kind of friendship our children seek, it’s still up to us to teach them to be good friends.  We need to teach them to respect everyone, to use kind words and friendly gestures, and to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Every generation has a great leader, but great leaders aren’t born into their roles.  Great leaders are raised.

Every 7 minutes, a child is bullied.

What will you do to stop the cycle?

What will you do to raise a stand up kid?

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“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

-Abraham Lincoln 

The moment you bring a child into the world, you enter a social contract of sorts.  A mom contract, really.

You agree to love and nurture that child.  You agree that, to the best of your ability, you will teach right from wrong and help that child grow into an independent and responsible adult.

You agree to accept responsibility for that child along the way, because that child is yours.  Your choices, behaviors, and attitudes will shape that child as he grows.

But you also enter a village of parents.  The cliché is old and well worn for good reason.  It truly does take a village to raise a child.  And, as responsible parents, we all have the opportunity to pitch in and help out when another parent needs a hand.

We don’t, of course, sign any such contract or truly agree to any such terms upon leaving the hospital with our tiny, helpless, bundles of joy.  But wouldn’t it be great if we did?  Figuratively speaking, naturally. Let’s face it; leaving the hospital requires enough paperwork as it is.

But wouldn’t it be nice of we were all on the same page with this parenting thing?

Before you jump to conclusions here, let me be clear:  This isn’t about right parenting and wrong parenting.  As a therapist, a parenting expert, and, most importantly, as a mom, I’m a big believer in the fact that every family is different.  One-size fits all parenting simply doesn’t exist in this world.

No judgment here, mamas, we all need to find our way along this journey.

But that doesn’t preclude us from meeting somewhere in the middle.

Isn’t it possible, for instance, to say that we all need to supervise our kids while at the park or in other community venues?  Is it really so wrong to expect other moms to put down that phone because your child needs you?

No, I’m not talking about missing out on the twirling of skirts or blowing of bubbles or any other Facebook graphic meant to induce mom guilt on a viral level.  I’m not judging your choice to check your email or check in with a friend.  Been there – done that.  Moms need a break.

I’m thinking more along the lines of kids pushing other kids, teasing other kids, littering all over the park, and practically screaming out for attention…while you do whatever you’re doing over there on that park bench.  Can’t we meet in the middle here and say that perhaps we should all agree to look up from our phones every few minutes or so just to be sure that our kids are behaving?

It is the job of the child to test limits.  A little shoving or teasing doesn’t make a child a problem…it just means a teachable moment is hanging in the air, and it would be really great if we all decided to teach in those teachable moments.

And while we’re on the subject…what if we all agreed to teach our kids the value of kindness and empathy and that bullying and teasing are never ok?  What if we simply decided that mean behavior won’t be tolerated, but that kind behavior will be praised and celebrated?

If we did that…we might actually decrease the overwhelming bullying statistics that hang over us and cause us to worry.

We could even agree to take one step further, for that matter.  What if we decided to finally stop the judging/criticizing/one upping thing that tends to happen among moms sometimes?  What if we simply said, “No more”, and focused on building each other up and helping each other out?

If we did that…we could model prosocial behavior for our children.  We would show them, by example, that kindness is appreciated and it’s always nice to lend a hand.  We could also show them that there’s no room in this world for bullying of any kind.

What if we entered this contract together and chose responsibility, kindness, respect, and empathy above all else?  What if we always helped instead of hurt and always listened instead of needing to be heard?  What if we became the people we would like our children to become?

If we did that…we could truly make a difference.  We could raise a generation of kind-hearted, respectful, and responsible youngsters.

And if we did that…we could finally sit back and just enjoy the ride.

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“A mother is one to whom you hurry when you are troubled.”

-Emily Dickinson 

I clung to her leg like a snail to a rock in stormy seas.  Steadfast in my refusal to let go, I stared at my feet and made no attempt to hide the tears pouring from my giant chocolate colored eyes.

“I don’t want to go.”

Hiccupping and sobbing as we walked side-by-side, she reassured me in quiet tones.

“I won’t leave.  I will be right there.”

At last we reached the sports field and it was time to let go.  For one hour, I was to play games with other five-year-olds.  For one hour, I was to trust strangers.

Quiet and introverted, I preferred the company of my dolls under the close supervision of my mother.  I had no need for classes and other kids.

“I will be right here.”

She promised to sit on the bench and watch.  She promised to be there always.  And she did.  Every time I glanced in her direction she met my gaze with a huge smile and enthusiastic wave.  She didn’t chat with the other moms.  She never moved from her seat.  For that morning, she sat still and smiled – making good on her promise.

38 years later I find myself making similar promises to my little girl.  Quiet and introverted, she prefers the comfort of home and family.  She shines when she finds her way out of that shell, but taking that first step takes patience and understanding.

Mother-daughter relationships are written about often because of the complex nature of the relationship.  There are ups and downs and ages and stages, and sometimes there can even be moments of silence.

Some wonder if they will measure up to the perceived successes of their mothers.  Others are adamant that they can do better.  I will never be like my mother, they think, as they try their best to do the opposite.

What children don’t always see is the mother behind the mother.

There is the mother who keeps the family safe and on track.  Cooking, working, doing, going, shuffling, and sometimes even using a bit of magic.  On the surface, mothers are consumed with busy.

But then there is the other part of motherhood.  The quiet part; the part that doesn’t often see the light of day.  Watching, worrying, problem-solving, planning…mothers are always thinking about their children.

And motherhood lasts a lifetime…

My mother has stood behind me for 38 years.  She has coddled, she has pushed, she has hugged, she has cheered…but she has never once stopped mothering.  She has never once walked away.

She has cried with me when crying was the only thing to do.  She has yelled with me when yelling seemed necessary.  She has laughed with me and made me laugh.  And she has listened every time I came running.

Some people think that mothers need to take a step back when their daughters become mothers.  That this is the defining moment – where mother/daughter becomes friend/friend.

Perhaps that might be true at times.

But my mother has continued to mother.  We’ve found friendship and she has allowed me to help her just as she helps me, but always she remains my mother.

Parenting is long and winding road and there is no shortcut.  There is trial and error, there is information, there is support, there is friendship, and there is love.  But there is no easy button.

When I hear people say that they want to do the opposite – that they don’t want to end up like their mothers – it breaks my heart just a little bit.  Because when I think about the essence of my mother – the thing that makes us the same – it’s strength.

Behind the scenes, during the moments I didn’t see as a child, my mother learned to rely on strength.  She faced obstacles, she fought hard for her children, and she never ever gave up mothering.  She remained strong when we faced great loss and encouraged us to find our own strength along the way.

Although there times that I wish I didn’t need the strength I seem to possess, I am grateful to have found that strength from watching my mother.

It isn’t about being the opposite or doing better.  It isn’t about her way or my way.  It’s about taking the best of what she taught me and starting there.  It’s about working tirelessly behind the scenes so that my own daughter may one day find the strength she needs to cope with the ups and downs that life has to offer.

It’s about mothering always and loving forever.

I am my mother’s daughter, and for that I am proud.