Middle school, Midlife, and Mommy’s little Zen Kit

First, let me clear up any possible misconceptions about the Zen Kit.  No, “Zen Kit” is not a euphemism for something else.  It really is a Zen Kit.  You know, for being… Zen-ish.  I made it because of the two other topics in this blog post.  The fact that I know almost nothing about Zen Buddhism was no deterrent to me.

I do, after all, have this book:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which says things like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this:

Obviously, this is good stuff.

The Zen Kit came into being a few weeks after Zoe and Alexander started middle school.  In our county, all the public schools are K – 8 schools that feed into one large high school.  “Middle School” consists of grades 6 – 8.  For my kids, middle school meant going to school in the same place they had gone for the past five years, with the same 32 – 36 kids who had been their classmates for the past five years.  Nevertheless, there was a certain mystique to the idea of middle school.  Things would be different; middle school kids were “big”.  There would be lockers, and a schedule.  Alexander and Zoe were a little nervous, but also seemed excited (though they wouldn’t exactly admit it).  I started getting excited, too.  I read auspicious signs of great things ahead in their most trivial comments and gestures.  This was it.  The kids were going to grow up, take ownership of their school work, and blossom into the mature, well-adjusted, enthusiastic scholars that I knew they could be.  It was MIDDLE SCHOOL!

This delusion lasted for about three days, and then things started to go sour.  The kids came home by themselves on the bus and, instead of doing their homework (which they had done, unsupervised, for exactly one day before things began to go downhill), they made extravagant snacks.  Snacks involving blenders and hot chocolate power and ice cream.  Snacks that were not cleaned up.  They fought with each other.  They fussed and procrastinated.  There was, almost immediately, frustration over homework.  I still had to nag them to brush their teeth in the morning.

I was so angry and discouraged.  And it was only the first week of school!  Then I had a shocking realization:  It wasn’t them (or at least, it wasn’t just them): it was me.  I was being reactive, irritable, and absolutely intolerant of almost everything the kids did.  Chalk it up to my profound disappointment that middle school was not going to instantaneously transform my kids into model children and students — or to good old-fashioned midlife hormones (a theory that is gaining strength, much to my chagrin) — but I really needed to chill out.

And so, the Zen Kit was born.  I had noticed that there were certain situations with my kids that just drove me insane, and I always found myself jumping into the fray, imploring or lecturing or raging in exasperation — despite the fact that nothing I did improved the situation.  I knew this.  But I couldn’t seem to stop myself from saying/ doing the same things each time a child whined about a chore, or wasted time instead of doing homework, or had to be reminded again to pick up his or her belongings.  If only I had a tangible reminder of my vow to step back in these situations, a way to truly follow through on my belief that “less is more”, a place to go and something to do to help me feel calm during these hot button moments.  If only I had a Zen Kit — peace and tranquility in a box!

Into the Zen Kit went, of course, my book of Buddhist sayings, along with my journal, some nice pens, a sketch book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Moms”, Wayne Dyer’s Inner Peace cards, “52 Silly Things to do When You’re Feeling Blue” and “52 Ways to Simplify Your Life”.  Nothing new, just items I gathered from around the house — simple stuff, little things.  I put everything in a bin and put it in my bedroom.

And immediately I felt better.  Really.  It was kind of weird.  It’s like the psychology studies finding that even seeking help for a health problem (i.e. calling the doctor for an appointment) leads to tangible improvement in people’s symptoms.  Just having the Zen Kit made me feel like I had an escape hatch for the next time I started to get trapped in the same old unpleasant patterns with my kids.  It was very reassuring.  Plus, it seemed kind of fun.

So, how’s it going?  Truth is, I haven’t used the Zen Kit much yet.  Remembering, as I start down the path of nagging, lecturing, and despair, that there is another way is a challenge.  But, like I said, just having the Zen Kit has changed my perspective somewhat.  Now I need the discipline to use it.  Change is hard.   Which is why LOVED this drawing from The New Yorker when I saw it in the August 13 – 20 issue this morning:

  : )

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No news is good news or “Oh, wow, it’s the last day of July and I’m finally writing a blog post!”

Warning:  this post contains several disclaimers, which I’m pretty sure is poor form in the blogosphere — and in the world of writing, generally (i.e. “sorry, this piece of writing kind of sucks because I’ve been stressed out lately, but bear with me…”).

First, I’m feeling a little distracted today.  We dropped our kids off for a week of summer camp on Sunday.  Anyone who knows me will remember last summer when Zoe went to camp for the first time.  The drop-off was less than inspiring.   First we had to sit in the car for 45 minutes during an horrendous storm before we could unload; Zoe immediately fell in a huge mud puddle and soaked her bottom getting out of the car; the cabin was cramped, dark, and crowded with wet, stressed-out parents all trying to get their kids settled at the same time; good byes were hurried.  We drove away feeling uneasy and anxious, and that feeling lingered — exaserbated by the dearth of happy, candid photos of my daughter on the camp website — for the next three days, until I got the first letter from Zoe saying she was having a great time.

Fast forward to summer 2012.  Once again, it’s time for camp.  Zoe is a pro by now — but this time, it’s Alexander’s first year.  Cue the maternal anxiety.  But wait!  Before you decide I’m a totally neurotic parent, know that I’m sending Zander off with a freshly broken arm and terrible poison ivy that has been keeping him awake and miserable every night for the past two weeks.  Oh, yeah, and he’s practically blind without his glasses (which I neglected to even mention to his counselor or write down anywhere on any of the forms).  So, yeah, I’m a little worried.  And therein lies the heart of disclaimer #1:  “I can’t write a good blog post because I’m unsettled and distracted!”

Second, I must confess that I started this post several weeks ago and have been working on it, half-heartedly, ever since.  As blogging goes, this is not a great approach.  The best blog posts I’ve written (in my humble opinion) have sprung almost fully-formed directly from heart, mind, soul (or where ever the home of inspired writing is located) to paper/ computer.  Thus, disclaimer #2:  “This blog post might be disjointed and meandering because it’s taken me forever to write.”  OK, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here goes…

A friend from my poetry group just adopted a baby boy.  He and his wife are my age (i.e. mid-forties), and I’ve been wondering how that is for them — waking up in the night, soothing a fussy infant, cradling a mysterious and amazing new life.  I feel as though I’m at the other end of that journey — not THE journey, the one that ends in…  well, you know…  But that I’m at a distinct point on the arc of life or, more specifically, nearing an end in a phase of my parenting life.  I’m feeling the passing of time in a different way this summer.

No, my children are not graduating from high school, getting married or even learning to drive.  They only turned 11 a few weeks ago.  They’re not very sophisticated or savvy kids, still not terribly “teen-ish”, I’m happy to say.   Nevertheless, I feel it — like a cool summer breeze blowing through an open door in another part of the house. Things are changing.   For the first time, the idea of my kids “growing up” and eventually leaving has started to enter my consciousness in a  more tangible way.  Maybe it’s because some of my friends who have older children are hitting big milestones, which makes it more real.  Maybe it’s their souls speaking to mine — beginning to whisper goodbye.

This summer has been great in lots of ways (and not so great in others).  Zoe and Alexander have taken their outdoor free time to a new level.  Our neighborhood is perfect for doing all the terrific things that people say kids don’t do enough of these days — riding bikes, exploring, building tree forts, selling lemonade, picking blueberries, inventing things, making kid plans.  I’ve loved seeing my kids re-connecting with old friends and reaching out to new ones — taking initiative, trying new things.  They are bolder and more confident than I was at their age.

With this increased independence has come some unexpected consequences:  both my children have had their first broken bones this summer.  In mid-June, Zoe crushed her thumb playing with an antique lawn roller behind my husband’s metal shop (yes, that’s about as bad as it sounds).  Almost exactly a month later, Alexander bobbled his bike riding uphill on a gravel road in our neighborhood, fell into a ditch full of poison ivy, and broke his wrist.

They’ve both handled their injuries well.  I’ve been impressed with their toughness and self-sufficiency.  The hardest thing in all of this has been Alexander’s poison ivy.  He’s called me into his room many nights over the past few weeks — beside himself with the pain and itching.  Even as I do my best to soothe him, this unexpected need for parental comfort paradoxically triggers an acute sense in me of my children’s growing independence and the waning of their childhood days.

I wrote this poem when the kids were six.  It’s one that a lot of my friends have seen already, but it’s really resonating for me this summer.

Pluto

My son will be the last boy
to know Pluto was once a planet.
At six, he’s well-versed
in nostalgia and remorse,
the quiver of injustice.
Little Pluto’s an easy mark
for a child’s empathy.  Even now,
nothing’s simple for him, my small
brilliant star, thin-skinned
and yearning to be good
at all things.  Done with
the trying day, he sleeps hard
and fast.  I enter his room
for the nightly ritual,
darkening the fish tank,
quick kiss of hot forehead.
There’s a galaxy here,
and I’m only a visitor.
I miss him already.
We’re doomed that way,
he and I, regretting the shot
before the arrow’s loosed,
ready to reminisce when
the day’s not yet spent.
We both know, after all,
that the universe
is expanding.
We’re moving apart,
faster and faster.

Summer’s nearly over for us.  School starts on August 8 (just a few days after the kids return from camp).  I go back to work full-time the same day.  In past summers (last year comes to mind), I’ve been eager for school to start — feeling overdone, ready to return to routines and regular schedules.  This summer, I’m not feeling that way.

I want more.

In the meantime, no letter from Alexander, but I did see a picture of him with a smile on his face on the camp website.  Last year, when filling out a post-camp evaluation, I suggested that the camp director, or a counselor, could send a one time email to the parents of first-time campers at the beginning of session, letting them know that all was well.  The response I got (boiled down to its essence):  Don’t call us; we’ll call you.  We can handle it.  No news is good news.

I hope your summers have been interesting and inspiring, full of joy, exploration and growth.  Please post your own summer thoughts!

The Round-up

A little less than 10 months ago, in early August 2011, I wrote the first post in this blog.  We’d just come through a summer of ups and downs, fun times and frustrating times, days when I thought I’d lose my mind due to my kids’ fighting and whining, and days when I felt healthy, relaxed, and at peace with the world.  School was about to start.  I created this blog to document our experiences during Alexander and Zoe’s 5th grade year.  The previous school year had been difficult, and even the summer seemed more trying than it should be.  Ten years in, I still felt as though I was struggling to find my footing as a parent.  I wanted a better way.

So, what happened?  How does the story end?  Forty-six blog posts, 101 comments, and 1,958 views later, where do things stand?

School ended almost a month ago, and I’m finally writing the promised wrap-up.  My writing pace has slowed considerably in the past six months.  Inspiration,  and an urgency to post, has waned.  Along with this is a growing awareness of my need to draw a line in terms of what I write about my children.  Although blogging has been an incredibly valuable outlet for me in my parenting journey, it comes at a cost that might be unfair to my kids — an invasion of their privacy and revealing of personal information that I know they would not appreciate if they were aware of it.  This poses a dilemma.

I think many parents, even those who are generally healthy and happy and who have a good community of wonderful friends, at times, feel isolated, anxious, and uncertain — about their children’s behavior and their own behavior.  Sharing stories and information is balm for our parenting wounds.  But now that my kids are almost eleven (and I do feel as though they’ve crossed a threshhold of some sort in this past year), I’m feeling less comfortable with putting their business out to the world.  Darn!

So, are my blogging days over?  More on that at the end of this post.  But, for now, the promised round up of 2011-2012 5th grade year at Blowing Rock School.

First, and most importantly, we survived!

Beyond that, here is a quick end-of-school-year snapshot for both kids:

Alexander:  Pow-wowing with his terrific teachers and other professionals led to a suggestion that Zander try typing more of his assignments, both in school (using a mini-computer) and at home.  This was an awesome innovation that went a long way towards alleviating homework stress and negativity near the end of the school year.  (I wish we had thought of it earlier.)  I saw some terrific writing from Z once he could let go of his frustrations with his hand-writing.  In fact, the child who “hates to write” won the DARE essay contest and was honored in a ceremony at the end of the school year.  He also appeared as the lead in a school play AND aced the super-hard end-of-grade science test.

Zoe:  Zoe had her first taste of conflict with her peers.  Her wonderful group of close friends experienced some dissention in the second half of the school year.  It was hard to see Zoe sad and hurt, and I wanted desperately to fix things, but knew I couldn’t.  Although these episodes were painful, I saw that Zoe was more resilient and adaptable than I realized.  Meanwhile, she continued to work hard in school, did well, and was enthusiastic and engaged in all her activities.

Taking the long view of this past year (and focusing on the positive), I see Zander gaining better control over his emotions, working harder, sticking to things, feeling proud when he does well, being more willing and confident going into new situations, being aware of others and being kind.

I see Zoe maturing into the beginnings of a young lady, taking care of herself, gaining confidence, being responsible, being more willing to listen to others, still creative, still determined, trying new things.

Lessons I’ve learned:
Things will continue to change.
Back off (i.e. “less is more”)
Let Zander be Zander.
Let Zoe be Zoe.

Are there any burning questions I’ve left unanswered?  Needless to say, the story hasn’t ended.

But will this blog continue?  I’m not sure.  I’m pondering new themes and directions for writing here.  Any ideas???  Thank you for your support!

Best wishes to all on this long summer day!

All’s well that ends well? Or maybe even if it doesn’t?

This week, like most, had its ups and downs. Unfortunately, I seem a little more susceptible to the downs recently. The kids are wearing me out. With Zander, it’s about trying to help him do better in school — encouraging him to slow down, get organized, write more neatly, take pride in turning in good quality work. I feel like I’m on him constantly. It’s exhausting. With Zoe, it’s a completely different dynamic. She and I seem to be engaged in an endless, complex power struggle, which is constantly manifesting in new and bizarre ways. This, too, is exhausting and leaves me with a continuously short fuse.

On Wednesday, we tried something new. After I picked up the kids from my mom’s, we went to the University library to do homework. The atmosphere seemed perfect, and I had high hopes for a pleasant and productive evening. Turns out the kids had a lot of homework that night — especially Alexander. And things were not exactly “pleasant”. After almost two hours of slogging away, we left the library, stopping for a quick hot chocolate at the coffee shop on the way out. That’s when Alexander dropped the bombshell: he still had some unfinished homework for AIG math. But not just “some homework”; he was required to create a math board game, for which he still had to make 25 cards with math problems and answers. He also had to write detailed directions for the game. It was due the next day.

Despite the fact that this was not MY homework, I immediately felt completely freaked out, along with being angry and frustrated that the assignment had been left to the last minute. We got home a little after 8 p.m., and Alexander immediately got to work. I was impressed by his determination, but there simply wasn’t enough time to get it all done — and the law of diminishing returns started kicking in as he got more tired. He went to bed with a plan to get up early the next morning and finish. The next day, he did wake up early, though not quite as early as planned. There was still a lot to do, and he was overwhelmed and frustrated with trying to write the math questions neatly on the cards. But then Zoe got up and started helping him make the cards, and things took a turn for the better. Though they didn’t get them all finished, they had a substantial number, and Zander had also fleshed out the game instructions. He had a plan for how he was going to present the assignment to his teacher.

Overall, based on past experience with how Alexander responds to school work challenges, I was surprised and encouraged with the way he had handled things. It was also great to see Zoe and Alexander work together, which had turned it into a much more positive situation.  Suddenly, instead of another 5th grade homework debacle, this felt more like an “all’s well that ends well” scenario.  With the homework dilemma solved, I was able to assess my own role and recognize how I could have toned down my reaction and not been so distraught.

But what if things hadn’t turned out well? What if, in fact, things had turned out very badly, with serious negative consequences? What if I or our family was confronted with a real crisis, not just the threat of a late homework assignment? How would we handle it?

At a recent Unitarian Universalist service, visiting minister Reverend Audette Fulbright shared this story about Thomas Edison, which was adapted from Chicken Soup for the Soul:

“On December 9, 1914, fire broke out in the West Orange district where Thomas Edison’s laboratories were. The fire destroyed most of the labs, and although the damage exceeded $2 million dollars’ worth, they were only insured for about $240,000 because they had been built of concrete and were thought to be fireproof. Edison was 67 at the time.

At the height of the fire, his son, Charles, went racing around, trying to find him. He finally found Thomas standing nearby, white hair blowing in the wind, soot and smoke surrounding him. ‘Where’s your mother?’ his father shouted at him. ‘Go find her. She’ll never see anything like this as long as she lives.’

Charles later wrote how sad he felt for his father at that moment. What must he be feeling, at age 67, watching much of his life’s work go up in flames? A disaster, surely. The next morning, the two went and surveyed the ruins. ‘There is great value in disaster,” Thomas suddenly said. ‘All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew!'”

Reverend Albright went on to elaborate on the individual differences in how people respond to change, the unexpected, and crisis. “I consider a fire that burns almost all one’s life work to be one of those big moments of unexpected change. Some people are devastated by such events. Some people look at the flames and see an opportunity to start over. What is the key to that difference?

My suspicion is we can’t begin with the fire. We probably need to start much closer to home, somewhere in the realm of the daily, with those much smaller, much more frequent opportunities for dealing with the unexpected that visit us. We’re stuck in traffic when our meeting is beginning across town. We burn the biscuits the night we hope to impress someone with our cooking. A child drops and breaks our favorite coffee mug. How do we deal with these little things? Do we get angry, do we sulk, sigh with resignation and move on, do we laugh? It makes a difference, each time we face that choice of how to respond.”

Ah, how that hit home for me. I often think about how I want my children to be more resilient and adaptable — but I really need those characteristics for myself! In the area of my family life, more than in any other arena, I find that I do not react the way in which I would wish to change, the unexpected, the (minor) crisis.

In her service, Reverend Fulbright discussed ways to combat our negative reactions to unexpected and uncontrollable events in our lives. She remined us that we have choices about how we see and respond to change and suggested the use of humor, which “allows us to flow through difficulties instead of being broken by them.”

It was a lovely sermon, and I left feeling refreshed and excited by the ideas she had described. I’m not a particularly spiritual person — and I’m definitely not a religious person. But there are those moments of transcendence — glimpses into another world that are inexplicably uplifting and inspiring. Mostly, for me, they happen outside in nature, sometimes during truly good times with friends (or with my children!), and very occasionally even in a church. At earlier times in my life, it seemed those moments were enough — enough to buoy me through the mundane and the trying. But I’m realizing (ten years in) that successful and happy parenting requires more than just moments of transcendence; it requires a true sea change in one’s attitude about life. It requires becoming Thomas Edison! And that, my dear friends, is something I’m still working on.

In case you were wondering…

Thursday was the first — and, so far, only — day of the new no-screen-time-on-school-nights regime. Here is a quick recap:

On the way home, it was clear the kids were well-aware of what was in store (even though we hadn’t talked about it much). There was mention of “having nothing to look forward to.” Both kids suggested that since their homework was already done and would only be corrected by them in class, and not handed in to the teacher, there was no need to go over the work. I pointed out that actually understanding every assignment was an important part of learning and doing well. They did not buy it. I reminded Alexander of his self-proclaimed new year’s resolution to get all A’s. He decided that he had changed his mind about that.

Once at home, we had dinner, followed by a rather extravagant dessert, which the kids claimed would fuel them during the homework session. After that, they became very silly. They played a game of being slo-mo zombies. For a long time. It was funny — until it wasn’t anymore.

At last, we sat down at the table and started reviewing their math worksheets. Both kids had some of the answers wrong, and we went through the problems together. They were acting a little whacky, but basically cooperating (somewhat to my surprise). They were also working together remarkably well, which doesn’t usually happen.

We finished going over homework by around 7 p.m., which normally would have given them plenty of time to watch TV for 30 minutes or an hour before they started reading. I almost wavered and changed the plan based on the homework being successfully completed. But then I realized that this would be sheer madness.

I announced that I was going to work on a new jigsaw puzzle if anyone wanted to help. Zander went into the living room and turned the television on. I wrestled him for the remote, and turned the TV off. This happened again. We wrestled again. I yelled (I would call it “mild” yelling). Zander stormed off to his room.

Zoe and I worked on the puzzle for awhile. Alexander came downstairs pouting and complaining. After awhile, he joined us at the puzzle table. He did something to make Zoe mad, and she stormed off to her room. (I think they were arguing about who would get to put the last piece in the 1000 piece puzzle when we finished it. Yup.) Zander and I worked on the puzzle a little longer. Then he asked if I would “do questions” with him on the big bed (an activity he had earlier rejected as too taxing on the brain).

An earlyish bed time was easy to achieve. Things were peaceful. Zander’s last words to me as I turned out the lights were to blame one of my friends for “giving me this idea” and assert his right to watch television the next night, since it would be Friday.

All in all, I considered the evening a success.

Putting out fires

Sometimes helping the kids navigate their school work feels like putting out dozens of tiny forest fires; as soon as you stamp one out, another one pops up a few feet away.  I feel good about Zander agreeing to let me check his math homework and being willing to correct problems that are wrong, but then both kids forget to bring home the book they need to study for a test.  I see improvement in spelling grades, but then one child or the other gets an F on an assignment in a class that wasn’t even on my radar to help them with.  The work packets that come home at the end of each week are a schizophrenic mix of marks, ranging from 100s to failing grades.  This week I was especially disheartened when I saw that Alexander had gotten a score of 25 (!) on a reading assignment — reading!  Say it ain’t so!  Not only was the assignment, which asked him to describe the main points of a book he had read, clearly incomplete (two sentences written on what should have been a full page), but the hand-writing was so horrendous, it was almost impossible to read.  Ugh!

I wish I could say I’m not personally invested in their performance or that these grades don’t really matter.  But the message I’m getting is that it does matter and that I do need to be involved and invested.  Notes from the teachers warning parents of bad grades coming home in the work packets, and reminders that a few low scores on assignments will significantly impact the final grade for the quarter, send a clear signal that the kids need to be on their game for each and every assignment.  Also, we were instructed at the beginning of the year to keep an eye on when the kids had tests (which is supposed to be written by them in their “planners”, but isn’t always) and to help them study.

Furthermore (and this is the tricky piece that makes me scratch my head and sigh in frustration), based on my children’s overall abilities (high standardized test scores, advanced reading levels), they should be more than capable of doing well on daily assignments and in-class tests.  So what’s the missing piece?  Is it lack of motivation?  Are they hurrying?  Do they still need to learn basic study skills and the concept of checking their work?  Are they just not trying?  And what, if anything, can I do to help?

I look into the future and see a long dark tunnel of struggling with school work, night after night, week after week.  For eight more years.  “Noooo….!!!”  my soul screams soundlessly.  Then, from time to time, I hear encouraging tales:  the child who was recalcitrant, disorganized, disengaged, angry (fill in the adjective) about school work suddenly turns it around and starts to cruise through the academic world like nobody’s business.  I know some of these kids and their parents well, so I know these are not just urban myths of Amazing-Child-Transformations.  I’ve heard about the bad grades and homework frustrations and meetings with teachers.  I’ve observed the different reactions and attitudes of the parents, too — from thinking their child might have a learning disability to railing against the teachers for giving too much homework.  I know parents who have encouraged their kids to not give a damn about school requirements that they feel are meaningless and those who have anxiously bent over backwards to arrange extra help for their children.  And all these kids are doing fine now — better than fine — in performance, attitude and spirit.  These stories give me hope.  But, still, it is a hard row to hoe (for me, at least), trying to walk the line of providing just the right amount of support and involvement in my children’s academic world.  And sometimes I am jealous of parents with kids to whom things seem to come more easily.  And sometimes I worry, what if things never turn around?  But what can you do as a parent but hang in there and do your best to help your kids navigate their world?  Appreciate the good and try not to get too freaked out by the not-so-good is my motto for now.

Your children are not your children

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCVvoL_F5gA

Last Sunday afternoon, I had a stunning revelation:  “You cannot have any needs that are bound up in the behavior or actions or personality of your children.  When it comes to your children, you must be ego-less.”

This is not to say that, as a parent, you must be selfless.  But your needs and desires must not be dependent on your children.

Even as this crystal clear realization came to me, I had a sinking feeling that this parenting principle would be the hardest one of all to follow.

As often happens when I’m writing this blog, I begin thinking that I’m talking about one thing and end up realizing somewhere along the way that I’m talking about something completely different.  In this case, the original theme for this blog post was about being a pushy parent — and how much pushing is the right amount.  However, by the end of Sunday afternoon, the day of infamy, my thoughts had moved away from pushing versus not pushing to something more challenging.

Our weekend was going well.  We had a good family meeting on Sunday morning with everyone participating and in fine spirits.  One of the things that was touched on (and had been mentioned earlier in the weekend, as well) was that Zoe and I would go running around Bass Lake in the afternoon.  Zoe is participating in Girls on the Run, a program that promotes self esteem through a girl-power curriculum that integrates running and training for a 5K.  I’m Zoe’s “running buddy”.  While most of what the girls do takes place during a twice-a-week afterschool program, each child is required to have an adult running buddy to run the 5K with.  Training with your running buddy is optional.  When Zoe started the program about a month ago, we talked about running together on the weekends.  She seemed receptive to the idea, and we have actually done it a few times (on a fairlly limited basis, as she is still not up to running very far at one time).

This past Sunday, I was looking forward to our run together.  First, the weather was absolutely gorgeous — blue sky, sun, breezy, temperatures in the 70s, leaf colors still vibrant.  I felt an urgency to get out and enjoy the day because it seemed it might be one of the last warm days of the year.  I was also feeling that it would be a good opportunity to move Zoe along with her running, which seemed sluggish to me — and I was starting to wonder how she would ever run a 5K.  Finally, I was looking forward to some physical activity, myself, and thought I could run a few extra laps around the lake and have it “count” as real exercise for me, too.

But when the time came, Zoe was not enthusiastic.  She put on her running shoes, but refused to change out of her jeans, although I nagged her and pointed out how much more comfortable she would be in shorts, or at least stretchy pants.  To no avail.  After I dragged her away from the television, we set out for the short drive to the Moses Cone carriage trails near the Blue Ridge Parkway.  However, we had not gone very far when the conversation turned in such a way that it became obvious that Zoe did not want to go running.  For some reason, this absolutely pushed me over the emotional edge.  I’m really not sure why, at that moment, I felt so disproportionately frustrated, discouraged, irritated, let down…  My bubble had been burst, and I was strangely heart-broken.  I did not handle it well.  The words “guilt and recrimination” come to mind.

Initially, I thought about this incident in terms of pushiness.  I know for a fact that I am not the pushiest parent in the world.  One friend has told me repeatedly that her children are “required” to partipate in at least one organized sport a semester or face consequences.  Another friend, who I think of as very gentle and low-key in her parenting style, expressed to me recently that she thought it was necessary to push children to do things so that they did not miss out on valuable experiences.  I know other children who have been involved in such an endless stream of activities since they were very young that I can’t help but think the motivation has come more from the parents than the kids.  So, if my pushiness seemed within normal range, why did I still feel so uncomfortable with my reaction to Zoe not wanting to go running?

In a moment of clarity, I realized that this was about something more profound than whether my child went running or not — or whether I was being too pushy.  It was about my own ego and a vision I had (perhaps without even fully realizing it) of Zoe (as an athlete, ready and willing to work hard to achieve a goal) and of our relationship (mother and daughter, in sync, enjoying an activity together).  Never mind that it was MY vision and MY goal.  In this instant of clarity, I saw how many different ways my ego was tied up in my children and how powerful the desire was for them to fulfill my needs.  It was sobering.  But it gave me some important insight and, hopefully, a path for pursuing a more peaceful and contented relationship with my children.

It’s been almost a week since that fateful day — a busy, tiring week when I have not had time to write or reflect — and this blog post feels disjointed, since it was written in several sittings with my mood very different at each time.  In retrospect, I can see even more how I overreacted to the running incident — but I hope some good will come from it.

Posting this amazing Sweet Honey and the Rock song (with words by Khalil Gibran) two ways http://youtu.be/HCVvoL_F5gA — check it out!