parenting

Not On My Watch

The alarm went off at 4:45. By 5:20 we were on the road.

Wind-blown, covered in dust and the distinctive smell of horse everywhere, it was nearly 3 in the afternoon before we were back home.

She was off to shriek into the phone to her friends and grandparents. It was her first blue ribbon, her first reserve grand champion.

I quickly got ready to meet with yet another contractor. He would be here any minute. I was crossing my fingers that maybe he would finally be the one to take on this project. It’s too small of a job for most people to be bothered with. It’s nothing to them. To me it’s everything.

At 5pm I slid into the tub. Ahhh, the power of warm water. Ready for a long soak.

Soon, there’s a heavy, hurried knock on the bathroom door. “Mom. I’m hungry and there’s nothing to eat. When are we having dinner? I’m really hungry.”

 “Ok. I’ll be out in a minute” I replied, begrudgingly.

Her brother and I are at the table. Waiting. Did she hear you call her for dinner? Yes he grunted in that way only 14 yr old boys can do, mustering a generation of disdain in one guttural sound.

We start without her.

Her dinner half-eaten she pushes her plate to the center of the table. “I’m done. Can we go now? Sarah’s waiting for me.”

“Are you kidding me? I thought you were starving? You barely ate anything. I got out of the tub to get dinner ready for you and…” I stammered.

Without pause she looked straight at me and said, “I didn’t ask you to get out of the tub. I said I was hungry. You chose to get out. Don’t put that on me.”

She was right. Infuriatingly right.

And here I was, facing that blurry line, again, the line between service and martyrdom.

I chose. To put mom before self—when it absolutely wasn’t necessary.

It was not “on her” as she said, but that’s right where I put it. The unspoken implied guilt: Look, I got out of the tub to cook dinner for you. You should be grateful.

Ouch.

Generational patterns, perpetuating the lie that “I should” always comes before “I need.”

No. Not today. Not on my watch. She will not learn this from me.

I look at her, exasperated, with wounded pride. “You’re right. You’re exactly right. I’ll take you to Sarah’s as soon as I’m done eating. Please put your plate in the sink.”

As she hurries out of the car she calls back, “Thanks for dinner mom. Bye. I love you.”

Why I'm Done With Being Nice

This is not a parenting story, but parenting is the avenue by which this particular lesson was delivered. Raising human beings has a way of shining light into dark corners.

I’d get that look in my eye, my brow furrowed. But before I could utter a sound, my children would shake their little heads and mumble, “We know. Be nice.” High fives all around for parenting success, or so I thought.

Have you ever gotten one of those beautiful shiny chocolate rabbits at Easter? You go in for a bite of dense bunny ear goodness only to have it crumble in your hands. Hollow. That’s what being nice had become — this shallow thing my kids did just to get me off their backs.

How had we gotten so far off track? I’d been snookered by the easiness of nice and my kids totally exploited it to appease me.

What is Nice?

Nice is sly. He’s banking on you being so dazzled by his shine you won’t bother to take a closer look. Oh, but I looked and you should too. Go ahead. Lean in and squint until it comes into focus. Uh-huh. You see it too? All hat and not cattle as we say here in Texas.

Nice is pleasant, but you wonder if he’s sincere. Nice may not lie, but you doubt his true currency is honesty. Nice cares for others, but it’s out of obligation. Nice is the easy way out. Which is exactly why we so easily fall prey to his allure. He makes us look good, as long as we don’t go poking around too much.

An Alternative to Nice

You might think that while not noble, Nice seems harmless enough. But “harmless enough” is Nice’s cunning lie to keep us on auto-pilot. To keep us at arm’s reach from each other.

So, what’s the alternative?

Kind. The dictionary says Nice and Kind are synonymous, interchangeable. I disagree. Kind is of a higher order — solid chocolate gold. Whereas, Nice is the cheap hollow knock-off.

Kind is pleasant and her sincerity is rarely in question. Kind is honest and demonstrates what she believes in with her actions. Kind cares for others out of compassion and empathy. Kind picks a side, even if it disrupts the status quo. Kind requires effort.

She looks outside herself and asks: What is needed? How can I make this situation better? Kind insists we get involved. Make eye contact. Speak up. Stand up. Notice.

Why This Matters to Your Work

Do you think you can go through life on Nice Mode, barely skimming the surface, then turn around and produce unmistakable work? At best you produce beige — doesn’t harm anything, but certainly doesn’t bring about change or provoke a response.

But something remarkable happens when you heed Kind’s beckon to become actively engaged with the people around you. A deeper, wider world opens up to you. As you discover new things the world becomes a more interesting place and it informs everything you do, think and produce.

Imagine being immersed, all in. You create work that fills the gaps, creates new paths, that has an opinion and is decidedly not beige. All because you cared enough to notice then act.

The question is, which will you choose? Quick, easy Nice or deeper, more demanding Kind?

As for me, with a furrowed brow and a glint in my eye, I now ask my children, “How can you be kind?”

Mothering

Mothers are different. (I’m sure dads are too, but I’ve never been one so…)

There are experiences in life that even with the most genuine of intentions you simply cannot understand until you are knee deep in them. Mothering is one of those experiences. No matter your intellectual knowledge on the subject. No matter your ability to empathize. No matter your close proximity to mothering. Until you have raised a child and have done the actual mothering, day in and day out, you can not enter the gates of understanding.

Mothering doesn’t make you superior, but it does afford you an unparalleled experience.

You see the world differently.
Your priorities shift.
You willingly choose family over the quickest path to success.
Your ability to make sacrifices and feel good about them increases exponentially.
You come to understand that you know absolutely nothing about anything.
Everyday is a learning experience.
Everyday you fail miserably at least once.

You learn time is not yours to keep.
Your learn that the daily to-do list is always longer than your stamina.
You learn that the daily to-list is not sacred. It can be sacrificed.
You learn that sharing your heart is better than having control.

Mothering is unique. Mothering is humbling.

And, if we’re lucky, mothering will wear down our shells and crack us open to a new reality, to a world where whole-hearted love is the answer to everything. Everything. Especially the impossible.