Category Archives: Parenting

Love Them and Let Them Grow

“If I know Becky,” my dad says, “she’s going to spend the next two weeks saying to herself, ‘Is she ok?  Is she having a good time?  Is everything going alright’?  She needs me!  And if I know Skylar,” he continues, “she’ll just be having a great time, being the life of the party, leading everyone around.”

He’s right.  On both accounts.

It’s day one of her two weeks at sleep away camp.  I miss her.  I was on the verge of tears last night as she’s never been away from home this long.  I am thinking all those things my dad said I would think.  I’m also wondering how I get through these two weeks without her.  I always do.  I’m a worrier.  More accurately, I’m a planner.  I like things orderly and under control.  I like to be able to anticipate the next move.

One common theme I hear from many parents who have lost a child is that they don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.  Problems no longer seem so big, so daunting.  Not after the unimaginable loss they’ve suffered.  I wish I could say that was the case for me, but conversely, it had just seemed to make me into someone who now finds themselves acting neurotic.  Suddenly everything seems to be an issue.  Little things feel like big things.  I struggle to keep every moving part in its place.  I want consistency.

Some parents of child loss have told me that they actually find they are distancing themselves from their children.  It’s a psychological need to guard their hearts.  Hearts that can’t handle another loss like the one they’ve already suffered.  A preemptive attempt to soften any oncoming blows.

I understand this thought process. My reaction after the loss of our Miss Elliott, however has been to grip everything tighter.  To hold on a little longer.  To savor every second, even after it’s gone.  Feeble, I know, but nonetheless, if I could will time to stop I would never let another second tick by.  I’d live in this current moment forever.

The struggle is to find balance.  I haven’t (yet) let the neuroticism take over.  I actively try to make sure that I’m allowing her to grow and thrive, and experience life on her own terms…well, sort of.  Evaluating every day to ask myself; was I too strict, too permissive, etc.  What’s the magic formula?

My husband tells me it’s the worry that let’s you know you’re a good mother, because really, when you break it down, worrying (within reason) just means you care.

First Day

First day of kindergarten, eight years ago.  Ready to take on the world from day-one.

 

She’s strong and outgoing, and like my dad said, she’ll probably be running the place by the time the week is out. We joked that there’ll be no tearful phone calls home in the middle of the night asking us to come pick her up.  And I’m proud.  Proud of her strong will, gumption, and tenacity.  Proud of her unbroken spirit, outspoken opinions, and every-present resiliency.

After the summer she’ll be going into eighth grade.  I only have one more year until she’s in high school.  How did it happen?  Where did the time go?

The most important lesson my parents have taught me that carries over into my own parenthood is just to “love them”.  In the end it’s the only thing you really do have control over.  Just love them, and let them grow.

 

 

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A Grieving Parent’s Growing Pains

“Good night”, she said.  “I love you.”

“Good night.  I love you too my sweetheart”, I replied.  I was reading on my bed when she came in.  I watched her walk away and marveled at the amazing young woman she has become.  And I questioned how it happened, when.

I blinked and here we are.

We spent the weekend attending various graduation parties.  Life is in full bloom for these new young adults.  Their wide eyes begging to take on everything in sight.  The increasing pace of their beating hearts palpable to anyone near them as they overflow with the anxiousness to take that first step in their new journey.  Laughter and joy abounds.  Their parents, an incompatible mix of immense pride, yet also the lingering pangs of sadness over that fact that they will soon be leaving, the fact that they are no longer needed the way they once were.

“Five years and we’ll be here ourselves”, I tell my husband.  I can hardly believe it.  Just stop I plead with Time.  Just wait.  Just give me a little longer.  Where did it go?  Was I even present for it?  I can’t remember it, I think to myself.  Where was I?  What was I doing?  When had she stopped being a little girl?  Have I done enough, taught her enough, instilled in her our values so she adopts them as her own?

I become misty eyed, feeling like every mother must, in losing my little girl to womanhood.  I know my time with her is limited.  And I know that she, like every other child who grows up, must want the freedom and ability to experience life on her own terms, too.

Then, on the other hand, I’m grateful for every bit of it because she’s growing and flourishing.  When I look at her, I see all the same magic and inspiration I see in the eyes of those graduating seniors.  And I want her to have every bit of goodness and opportunity the world can offer.

I try my best to prepare her.  I’ve never wanted to fill her head with fairytales. I tell her it will be hard, she’ll have to fight for what she wants, push through her trials, and to neverSkylar take a back seat. I encourage her to purse her dreams, with the understanding that being smart, while she is (astonishingly so), isn’t enough on its own so she knows she has to be willing to go out there and go after what she wants instead of sitting around waiting for it her find its way to her.

As much as it pains me (but of course I’m proud of her and happy for it) to see my child changing before my eyes; becoming her own person, blossoming into a being all her own; not needing me, I know that the alternative is far worse.  I know from experience.  And there is deep sadness.  The hole in my heart reserved for our Miss Elliott, gone more than five years now opens a little wider in these moments.  In the undeniable moments that reaffirm each time we live through them that there will never be these milestones and celebrations for her.

I will never know who she would have grown into being.  What she would have accomplished.  Whose lives she would have changed.  She will always be three years old.

As the gap between my girls continues to widen exponentially, I can only hope she will carry her sister’s memory with her as she navigates the roads of life.  When she has no siblings at home to share secrets with, fight with, turn to, or champion one another I can only hope that in her heart she feels a connection to her sister and knows she’s not an only child, even if she has to live this life as one.

I hope she will use her loss to propel her to reach new heights in both love and life.  I know that she is by far more compassionate and understanding of others and their own plights, at such a younger age than she would have otherwise been.  And while I would have never asked to place this burden on her, as a grief counselor once told me:

“We must be good stewards of our grief.”

     In that spirit I will not wallow in my sadness,  I will not stunt her own growth and development, but I will use it to further advance my daughter’s dreams and aspirations as she grows and matures, to the best of my ability, in honor of a beautiful life cut far to short.  In honor of the live I have, and always will for both my beautiful girls.

Growing Up Is Hard To (Watch Them) Do

Benson 11

“Mom, it’s embarrassing”, she said as we stood in the driveway. Spoken in her most astute voice with a dead-pan expression of resolve across her face that told me she meant what she was saying. She never minces words. “Ok”, I relented, begrudgingly, but unselfishly. I knew it was embarrassing. She’s in sixth grade now. She’s eleven. I get it. And the truth is, I want her to be independent; maybe not as independent as she wants to be, but I want her to learn to take care of herself, to speak up for herself (who am I kidding, she’s got that one down pat), and to explore the world. I’m just not ready to begin letting go and letting the world get ahold of her, that’s all.

The bus stop is only one and a half houses away on the corner of our street. I walked through two neighborhoods, and across the busiest street in town on my way to school when I was her age. I wasn’t offended, I would be embarrassed too if I were her and my mom was still walking me to the bus stop…all of 150 feet away. When she was younger I was the mom that would call the house of the sleepover to make sure she was “behaving herself”, but in reality it was because I needed confirmation that she was ok while out of my sight. I just don’t know how to not be there with her. How do I stop hovering so she can fly? I suppose that question is old as parenting itself.

As children grow they slowly become less and less under your care and guidance and more and more in control of their own mind and actions. I want this for her. I want her to feel secure enough to be able to make decisions for herself. I want to nurture that strong sense of self that tells her she is her own person who can be accountable for her own life. The kind of nurturing that instills the values I want her to adopt as her own, but gives her room to actually test them out in order to adopt them.

I want to be her best friend, not some overbearing annoyance. I want to give her room to come to me when she needs me, and not have to struggle to run away just to take a breath for a moment of solace away from me. I know that all parents have to find a way to keep that fine balance as their children become young adults, but for some reason I think parents of child loss generally have a more difficult time finding and keeping that balance.

When Miss Elliott was alive she needed me every second of every day for her every conceivable function. And not only are we mothers and fathers of severely disabled, terminally ill children in such high demand in caring for our children, but inherently we suffer their loss. Suddenly our established routine of being so needed diminishes drastically when that happens. We have suffered the worst nightmare a parent can have; our child has died and our responsibility as a parent (to them) is over. How do we move on with our other children? It’s an otherwise illogical thing to try to process, when generally one is once a parent, always a parent.

I’ve discussed this topic at length with other mothers in my position, most notably in our Women’s Group at the annual family conference for parents of terminally children of lysosomal storage disorders. One of two outcomes seems to transpire in each family’s loss. Some parents become hyper-protective of their other children, while others become disengaged, and in some ways even push their children away in an effort to distance themselves from the potential of yet another loss. In either scenario we’re acting on a vain attempt to try to control the future, but one that is ultimately born of the experience of love and loss in the first place.

You see, grief is something that we parents of loss live with, and will live with for the remainder of our lives. It affects every facet of and person in our lives as it is transmitted through us. It is a constant struggle to recognize, rationalize, work though, and remedy the ache in our hearts as it applies to those facets and those people in order to heal and not to further harm them, including our other children.

Children don’t ask for any of the circumstances they endure as children, be they good or bad, but they certainly do deserve parents who do everything in their power to prevent as much of the latter as possible when it applies to their growth as healthy human beings. And they definitely deserve parents who do not contribute any negativity or hindrances to that growth. I can’t ask my daughter not to grow up. I’ve already lived through the alternative. My responsibility to her is not to make her my pet, something I own and control, it’s to grow her into the amazing woman I know she is on the path to becoming. To help her realize her potential, and do everything I can to help her develop the tools necessary for successfully navigating life, both the triumphs and challenges. Ideally with a guarded, but not hardened heart.