As my beautiful daughter, my first born, turns 26 years old this week, I reflect on how motherhood has changed me, and my life, and what I have learned along the way. The list could be endless, but in honor of Mackenzie’s 26th year, I will limit my thoughts today to 26 impactful changes, additions and lessons:
- Above all, I am a more loving person, having been brought to my knees over and over by the love I feel for my children. A love indescribable by words, but felt at my deepest core. Every day. From October 16th, 1989, through today.
- I begin each day with a grateful heart, and that has changed everything.
- I am much more patient, especially today. This change, unfortunately, did not happen immediately upon the birth of my first child, but rather has been an ongoing transformation. I do wish I had been more patient in the early years, and if I could send one message to young mothers, it would be to be more patient with your children.
- Forgiveness is a gift I have learned, forgiving my children for their mistakes and mishaps along the way, but even more importantly, forgiving myself for my mistakes and mishaps along the way.
My areas of expertise have grown beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I could score a gymnastics or diving meet as good as most trained judges any given day of the week.
I know what cradling, quick stick, raking and The Box all mean, and really like lacrosse. And although some of the terminology sounds similar: ball, detent, burnish, coupling and gage blocks, mechanical engineering is not a game, at all.
- Whatever ideals you may have in mind for your child’s path in life, give it up.
Children are born as they are, not created by us, and their intended path is so much better than any I could have laid out for them. Yes, of course, they needed my physical care, a ride to practice, a tuition check, but Zachary was born to be an engineer, not the jock I hoped for. Mackenzie was born to challenge the world, especially me, blazing a path of beauty and strength along the way, encouraging all to be a better human. Let them be who they are meant to be.
- As a follow up to that, I do not always get my own way. I learned this one fairly quickly, 26 years ago, and I am reminded often. Young moms, accept it.
- I didn’t break them, and for that, I am very grateful. Children are incredibly resilient, so don’t beat yourself up too badly when you mess up. It is more important that you recover quickly when things go awry and instead focus on what the issue of the day may be tomorrow.
- Don’t get too caught up in the issue of the day because it will pass quickly. Dad talked to me about this one 24, or so, years ago when I was trying to get one of the two off a bottle, or pacifier, or potty trained, referring to one of my several parenting books for guidance. He told me to relax and enjoy the moment, because by the time I got my nose out of the book, the bottle, or pacifier, would be tossed, by them, and they would be climbing the banister on the back porch, two stories above the driveway and I would need to be there to catch them. He was right.
- “A mother is not a person to lean on but a person to make leaning unnecessary.” Dorothy Canfield Fisher.
One of my favorite parenting quotes. I was tough. I could have been less tough. But in a world that brought me much pain and disappointment, especially in the first 20 years, I wanted Mackenzie and Zachary to be tough. To be prepared for pain and disappointment. They are strong today, but I also believe that they know I am here for a little leaning.
- Am I more curious? I think so. I have always been curious, but watching two humans grow, exploring their passions, has made me more curious about each of them, and what lies ahead.
- I definitely am more open-minded, thankfully so. Just as my brother and I befriended a very diverse group of people, both of my kids have opened our lives to a widely varying group of people, places and things. Enjoy your kids’ friends, interests, music, art, fashion, etc.
- I am less angry. This is related to being more patient, and more forgiving, in part, but just in general, not much makes me angry any longer. I only wish this quality had developed earlier, but again, I am grateful to be aging without (much) anger.
Mothers and adult daughters have a special bond. I had the unexpected joy of living with Mackenzie as an adult, briefly, after she finished graduate school. I was reminded how fiercely determined she is, and discovered what an impressive young lady she has become, but at the same time, learned how similar she is to the little girl I drove to gymnastics six days a week 20 years ago. I was reminded how smart she is (Mackenzie was the jock of my two kids, and Zach “the smart one” — try to avoid these labels), and what a blend she is of Mom, her father, and of me. After years of head butting and jockeying for control, she is a friend now, and at times I would have called Mom, I now call Mackenzie to share.
Mothers and adult sons have a special bond too, so don’t feel slighted if you have only boys. Zachary chose to attend the University of South Florida when we moved to St. Petersburg in 2009, so was close-by through college. This undoubtedly allowed us both to develop our adult relationship and I will be forever grateful for this additional time with him. He is off now, following his dreams, and I doubt we will ever live geographically close again, but regardless of distance, our bond is deep and meaningful. We talk about things that probably neither of us discuss with anyone else, and both Jack and I seek guidance from Zach on topics that he knows way more about than we do. In turn, he is smart enough to do the same. He, also, is on my short list of loyal, trusted friends.
- There will be parts of your children’s lives that you do not know about, and that is okay.
- When they hurt, I hurt. When they crash their bikes into one another, break an arm, skin elbows and knees, you will hurt. When the epinephrine pen does not counteract the bee sting and he is rushed to the hospital with a fading heart beat, you will hurt. When the babysitter with whom you have entrusted their lives runs over her with a car, you will hurt. (yes, that happened . . . oh Maggie May) When a teacher or fellow classmate diminishes his dream, you will hurt. When they are shunned, sad, depressed, and toying in dangerous teenage behavior, you will hurt. Parenting does hurt.
- As I wrote in my 50 Lessons in 50 Years, none of us know what we are doing as parents. We are all winging it and hoping for the best.
- Also, as I wrote,
both of my children are smarter than me, more talented than me, more driven than me, more attractive than me, and just all around better people than me . . .thank goodness.
- A parent is not perfect, but a parent’s love for a child is perfect. In its own way. Cherish what your parent has to give (you cannot get something from someone they do not have to give – you have heard me say that before). Be proud of what you have to give as a parent, and give generously. As a child, take what your parent has to give, graciously. You will miss it when it is gone.
- I am proud of my generous heart, which is a quality I inherited from my mother. Her greatest quality. A wonderful quality for a mother to have. Again, give generously, and with no ulterior motive.
- You will sleep better, in time. I finally sleep well. I still worry. I still have sleepless nights, but overall, I rest with a peaceful spirit most nights knowing I have raised capable, intelligent, strong adults who try really hard to make good decisions.
- The empty nest ain’t so bad if you took care of the nest while it was full. I have had this discussion with my best friend, Lindsy, several times.
We parented thoughtfully, our children foremost in our minds for two decades. We loved hard, and continue to. Many who observed probably assumed that we would suffer greatly from “empty nest syndrome” in that our children played such a big part in our lives for so long. Interestingly, that has not been the case. I believe that when you give all you have to give, although not perfectly, and with mistakes, you are able to let go easier, knowing you did your job. Knowing that your children do not need to lean on you, but hopefully will choose to lean on you from time to time.
- I can give money, gifts and nice gestures now because I want to, not because I need to.
- As they grow, they realize that I am more than a parent, and my life, and my dreams, matter too. I believe that because they see me chasing my dreams, still today, that they feel strength in chasing their own dreams. You are never too young to start chasing dreams, and never too old to dream.
- You do not need to be a parent to be fulfilled and complete, but being a parent is the greatest accomplishment of my life, and in fact, has completed me, to be surpassed one day, perhaps, by being a cool-ass grandma. If I’m lucky.
Having said all of that, Happy Birthday to you, Mackenzie. As a gift to you, from you, give yourself a break this week, and try not to be so hard on yourself (a quality I wish that I had not passed along to you). I love you more than you know. I am proud of you more than I know how to say. Thank you for 26 years of joy. I look forward to the next 26.
Today & always,