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Category: Parenting

A Letter to My College Graduate – I Noticed, I Saw

12961568_10153600466870488_6578506396590814839_nYou, the baby who entered the world dramatically, unresponsive and frighteningly silent, the one who made me a mother for the first time and who has only ever been late to one event in your entire life – your due date — and only ever “failed” one test (the APGAR) — YOU are graduating from college.

While you were still tucked inside of me, I wrote letters and tucked them into your baby book. Those letters were written by a woman who didn’t know you. So, they focused on things I thought you might like to know someday: details about my pregnancy, some of your family history, and how Dad and I met, and how excited we were to become a family.

Then I wrote a few letters to you 12987183_10153600466605488_1344644696529580324_nafter you were born. I still didn’t know you, but I was getting hints about who you might become. Your alert eyes and your animated expressions provided some clues about the personality that would soon open like a flower, revealing an explosion of color and beauty that had only been hinted at when it was just a bud.

Now, as I attempt to write a letter that would honor your accomplishments, document your college career and offer some words of wisdom as you embark on the next phase of your life, I find myself at a loss. Every word or phrase seems to fall short of the mark. Picture collages and Facebook posts are inadequate.

I can only offer you what is bubbling up from my heart. And that is an overwhelming pride for who you are and gratitude for how you have handled yourself as you marched (too quickly) into adulthood. I want you to know that I noticed when you sacrificed, when you put in the extra effort, when you made the right decision or the hard choice. I want you to know that I cherish the relationship we have, and that I acknowledge what you have done to make that relationship possible.

What I want to say is this. I noticed and I SAW when you:

  • Never gave up on your goal of swimming in college, even though you faced year after year of disappointing swim meet results.
  • Carefully researched your college options and chose the school and the swim program that was right for you.
  • Navigated a challenging living situation in college with maturity and grace that I know I would not have possessed at 18.
  • Chose your college friends carefully, and chose well.
  • Lived on a budget, and a tight one at that, and stayed within that budget.
  • Opted to get a job – actually two jobs — to have more spending money.
  • Recognized that there was too much on your plate – those two jobs, swimming and school — and wisely chose to live on less money so you could maintain balance.
  • Came home during the summers and assimilated back into our family, honoring our desire to have you home at a reasonable time and to know where you were, while also contributing to the household duties as if you’d never left.
  • Gave us plenty of your time on your visits and summers home, making it to all family functions and holidays and just hanging out with us.
  • Called and texted us regularly, keeping us connected to you and letting us continue to be a part of your life.
  • Said thank you. A lot.
  • Recognized the time when you needed some help from Mom and Dad and had the courage to ask for that help.
  • Worked through some big decisions your sophomore year, not the least of which was the decision that after 14 years, it was time to retire from swimming.
  • Maturely handled a long-distance relationship with the man that you love.
  • Worked full time last summer while also taking an LSAT prep course and completed two college courses so that you could graduate a full year early.
  • Diligently completed law school applications and essays and secured acceptances and scholarship offers from four major schools.
  • Stepped in beside the man that you love during the darkest hours of his life, grieving with him while also supporting him and giving him the space to grieve in his own way.
  • Handled everything your senior year of college, including choosing your law school, applying for the financial aid you’ll need to cover it, while also allowing Mom and Dad the opportunity to be a part of the process.
  • Remained my daughter, letting me remain your Mom, giving me the right to occasionally make a “Mom demand” or request or correction, but also, most importantly, became my friend.

So, my previous baby girl – I see YOU and I am proud. It is my greatest hope that as you head out into this adult world, you can see yourself through my lens, your father’s lens and the lens of the God who created you and abundantly blessed you with so many gifts. If you can do that, you will see a picture of a young woman who can and will do great things.

—– Gretchen Cox graduates Cum Laude on May 14, 2016 from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. In just three years, she completed a bachelor of arts degree, double majoring in political science and history. She was inducted into both the History and the Political Science honor societies, and she just won an award for the outstanding research on a paper she wrote on the Great Depression and Appalachia. She will attend the St. Louis University School of Law starting in August 2016.

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The Valentine’s Box

When I had my third baby at age 40, nine years after my second baby, my heart danced at the prospect of getting to do everything over again as an older, wiser mom. I vowed to appreciate all the moments more, to live in the present and embrace every aspect of motherhood during what would be my motherly swan song, my last “at-bat.”

If I’m being generous, I might say my batting average is about .500 on this score.

But one particular homerun stands out in my memory. My baby, Ginger, was 15 months old and sick with croup. We sat uncomfortably perched on the toilet seat in the steamy bathroom around 2 a.m. She was crying through coughing fits, miserable. I was sweating through my pajamas and from the heat of her feverish body pressed against me, my hair curling around my face from the man-made humidity of the shower spraying scalding water full blast as it tested the limits of our hot-water heater.

As I held her, exhausted from the second night of this, I settled into the moment, savoring it for what it offered me – a chance to hold my baby close and provide some comfort. I appreciated it for what it was and for how fleeting I knew it to be.

I wish I could say that I have demonstrated that fountain of wisdom in all of her eight years thus far.  But I haven’t. I’ve tried. But I’ve failed as many times as I’ve succeeded.

Life gets so busy.

Last weekend went something like this:

  • Thursday night: Bible study for couples until 8:30 p.m. My husband, Marc, goes home to put Ginger to bed. I go to help the moms of the junior basketball players help the make posters for the senior basketball players so we can honor them on senior night. Home around 10:30 p.m.
  • Friday: Client work and finishing up a short story for the fiction workshop I’m indulging in to improve my writing. Meet Ginger at the bus stop and deliver her to my neighbors so Marc and I can get to the senior night varsity basketball game. Home around 9 p.m.
  • Saturday: 13-mile training run for my half marathon. Marc does a CrossFit class while my son, Brad, watches Ginger. Then Marc takes them to the pancake breakfast at Ginger’s school. Marc and I do taxes all afternoon. Drop Ginger off at a birthday party at 6:30 p.m., sneak into church a little late, where Marc is saving me a seat.  After church, Marc goes to pick up Ginger at the party and I head home to make chili for Brad’s Superbowl party on Sunday. Bed around 10:30 p.m.
  • Sunday: Sleep in until 8:30 a.m. What a treat! Then grocery shop while Marc heads to accountants office to do taxes. I get home,  put away groceries and head to my fiction class while Marc and Brad set up for the Superbowl party. I return home around 5 p.m., and then Ginger and run out to buy Valentines for her class party on Thursday, knowing the week will be crazy and we have to get this done tonight. We return home and embark on making the Valentine box and filling out the cards and assembling them with the pencils she is giving as a special treat.

Admittedly, I did not want to make the Valentine box. I hate arts and crafts on a good day. While this had not been a bad day, it had been an overly scheduled one. My tank was empty. I wanted to curl up with a good book and put this busy weekend to bed.

She wanted glitter and sparkles and a hot glue gun and the “best Valentine’s box ever.”

Something made me remember that night she was sick with croup. It seems like it’s been awhile since I held her while she was sick. Then I remembered a poem I read recently about there being a last time for everything – a last time when you feed your baby, a last time when you will hold her on your hip, the last time he will reach for your hand before crossing the street. And you won’t know it’s the last time.

And I thought,  “Savor it.”

So we made the Valentine Box.

Third Child Valentine Box
Third Child Valentine Box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just kidding. I may sometimes forget to savor the moment, but I seldom forget to be snarky. I just had to take that picture.

Before making this box with her.

And then attending this party with her today.

And then she gave me this.

valentine 3

I hope it’s not the last homemade Valentine she makes for me, but I’m saving it just in case.

And I’m hoping to improve my batting average this year.  Because it’s going way too fast.

 

 

 

 

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Meeting Them Where They Are – Grief, Comfort

I wake in the cold hotel room and hear the room’s archaic air conditioner humming and thumping, having been left on because of an unexpected warm spell in December. I peek at my watch and am grateful that it reads 2 a.m. – three and half more hours to sleep. I enjoy being one of those fortunate souls who can fall back asleep within seconds of deciding to do so, but I intentionally delay my slumber on this night.

My baby’s knees are planted firmly in my back.  Again. She is a force to be reckoned with when sharing a bed, no matter how big the mattress. She’s like water, filling whatever space she occupies.

I plan to move her over a little, but not before I roll over and take in her breath, touch her face, hold her hand. From head to toe, my baby now stretches 48 inches. She’s eight and growing so fast. Wasn’t she just kicking me in the back from inside my body? I know I’ll blink and she’ll be 16, then 20 – just like her sister who is sleeping in the other bed a few feet from us.

All too soon, this small body next to me will grow into the body of an adult. And her dreams, wants and needs will become more complex. Earlier in the day, I purchased an inexpensive, sparkly necklace at a Christmas craft fair and she was delighted for hours. In no time, a piece of cheap jewelry will simply be a piece of cheap jewelry to her rather than a treasured souvenir that brings her hours of joy and makes her feel beautiful and grownup.

Likewise, in the not-so-distant future, I will be unable to soothe her pain with an offer to play Candyland, or ease her fears by holding her hand or letting her sleep with me.  Gazing at the sleeping silhouette of my oldest “baby,” I am reminded of this reality.

A few weeks previously, my oldest daughter experienced profound grief and loss for the first time. Her boyfriend lost his mother unexpectedly – a 51-year-old woman with no known risk factors or health issues died of a heart attack.

Her boyfriend is an only child who was blessed with an enviable relationship with his mom. He is the type of man who loves deeply, with his whole heart, and that is how he loved his mom and how she loved him. That love meant they were incredibly blessed. But it also means that his loss is staggering, like a powerful wave that rolls in and pounds you from above while its undertow prepares to snatch the sand from beneath you, knocking you off your feet. Again. And again.

My daughter is suffering that loss, as well, because she also loved his mom, and she loves him. She’s confused and struggling to say the right things, do the right things, be the person he needs her to be. She’s trying to accept that she can’t fix anything, can’t heal the wound. That simple acceptance will be helpful to him.

That’s where he is.

I explained to her that she is grieving for the happy soul that he was before this tragedy. And she is grieving for the moments of joy they will experience together through the holidays and possibly throughout life that will carry a shadow. Sometimes that shadow will be large and overwhelming, especially in these first few months of grief. Other times, that shadow will simply be a brief dimming of the joy, a lessening of the bright colors, as her boyfriend feels the absence of his mom in a moment when she should be present.

I don’t know if my words helped. Unfortunately, a board game or a sparkly necklace won’t provide even a moment reprieve from her sadness. I not even sure my words did anything but confirm for her that she is, indeed, facing many more months of grief.

That’s where she is.

**

As I watch my 8-year-old sleeping, I am grateful and at peace. She had asked to sleep,  claiming to be frightened by a scary picture I showed her earlier in the day of a movie character. My older daughter suggested that her baby sister was just “playing” me, using that as an excuse to get to sleep beside me.

I didn’t care either way. If it’s a special treat for her, it’s an even bigger honor for me. Life promises that some day, she’ll be crying big, soulful tears – over a social disappointment or a broken heart or a shattered dream or the loss of a loved one. She most likely won’t take comfort from me patting the mattress and letting her climb under the blankets with me.

Hopefully, though, these times when I’ve comforted her on the small things will create enough of a bond, enough trust, that she’ll let me pat her on the back, wrap my arms around her and share what little wisdom I have to offer, and all the love I have to offer – like her big sister is letting me do.

For now, though, my presence is enough for her. Blessedly, for a few more years, at least, that’s where she is. So, I’ll just breathe her in, hold her close for a few moments and then scoot her over so we can both get some rest.

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Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour Provides Great Mother/Daughter Experience

Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour St. Louis Concert
Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour St. Louis Concert

My 7-year-old’s suggestion that we do a mother/daughter sleepover, complete with crafts, board games, facials and mani’s/pedi’s became a reality last week with an added bonus – tickets to the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour concert, in the SECOND ROW OFF THE STAGE!

Ginger first suggested this weekend of “funtivities” last spring, offering it as a birthday present from her to me. Since I’m not the type of mom who loves doing crafts or playing board games, I kind of put her off, suggesting a Starbuck’s gift card instead. I know, shame on me.

She was persistent and kept after me all summer. So I began trying to figure out how to make it happen, knowing in my heart that I should cherish these times with her, reminding myself how quickly time passes.

When we lucked into the amazing seats at the Taylor Swift concert, I decided it would be fun to skip school, stay downtown, do our crafts & mani’s/pedi’s and head over the concert to top off the night. We stayed at the Embassy Suites, which I reviewed here.

The concert was amazing – an experience that I think Ginger will remember forever. I know I will. It was magical for my daughter, being that close to the stage, able to see the beads of perspiration on Taylor’s face as she put 110 percent into her performance. Ginger belted out the lyrics to almost every song, and seemed mesmerized by the dancing, the lights, the pure energy put forth by a performer who knows how to interact with and electrify an audience.

It was a transforming 24 hours for me, too – a reset of sorts. It reminded me to slow down and enjoy my girl. It helped me acknowledge a few things that I knew, but had forgotten in my busyness:

  • Ginger won’t remember whether I kept the house clean.
  • She won’t care what I accomplished as a writer.
  • She is unconcerned about my work, my website, my paycheck or my social media presence.
  • She expects to be fed, but isn’t worried about whether every meal is balanced.
  • She desires my attention and my presence.
  • She likes crafts and board games and music just like I like reading, horror flicks, running and time outdoors. I must make a regular effort to engage in her passions.
  • We share an interest in fashion, perfume and all things “girly” so that’s a good place to “hang out” together.
  • Now we also share an interest in Taylor Swift, but it’s because we did it together.
  • She wants me. Most importantly, she wants ME. That’s easy. Give her more of ME, and in so doing, I get the amazing benefit of getting more of her.

One more big plus from the weekend: Ginger and I had a chance to really talk about things going on in her life. At 7, she’s starting to navigate the difficult social waters of “girlhood.” Those waters can be rough, mainly because more often than not, our gender has not figured out how to lift each other up rather than cut each other down.

Mean girls are reality. And I am a believer that EVERY girl possesses a mean girl inside of her. It is our job, as moms, to help our daughters tame the mean girl, keep her on a very, very short leash, acknowledging her feelings, helping our daughters to give words to those feelings, but then empowering them to reach higher – to look up and consider what Christ wants her to do and be. Ginger and I talked about how hard it is to be nice after someone has been mean, and then how to move on. Then we talked about how the Taylor Swift song, Shake It Off, can be a theme song for doing just that.

So, thanks Taylor, for everything! And thanks to the Embassy Suites for providing a great venue for our mother/daughter Sleepover.

 

 

Adult Friendships – Make New Friends But Keep the Old

PREVIOUSLY POSTED AUG. 2008

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently hooked up with a very dear, almost life-long friend. My friend and I met as freshmen in high school.  We took classes together, partied together, traveled together and even lived together (rather peacefully, in fact) in an apartment until I lost my job and had to relocate to South Carolina for a new job. My friend visited me in South Carolina, was in my wedding and visited me in the hospital when I had my first baby.  When my husband worked nights and weekends while my first-born was young, she kept me company and provided much-needed “adult” conversation.

Then my husband’s schedule changed and he was home at night and on the weekends.  I had another baby.  then dance lessons, soccer practice, life as a wife and mom took over.  Meanwhile, my friend advanced in her career and started traveling the globe on incentive trips.  She even invited me to go on one with her — all expenses paid for a week in Scotland.  I really wanted to go, but my “babies” were 6 and 3, and I couldn’t bear to leave them for that long.

We made the effort to get together several times a year, then once or twice a year.  Eventually, we got to the point where we’d only see each other once a year.  We’d lament this fact every time we’d hook up because we always had so much fun.  We laugh about old memories and how no matter how much time passes, we’re still basically the same people.  We were both raised by cops, thus we’re both terrible cynics.  (really, NOTHING good happens after midnight!) We agree on things like crime and punishment. We both love strappy sandals, but think you MUST have painted toenails to wear strappy sandals. You know — all the important stuff.

I used to get upset that we didn’t see each other more often, and my friend would console me by saying that her mom told her this would happen. She said that friends “drift” some during the  childbearing/childrearing years, particularly if they don’t both go through those years at the same time.  Her mom said that you get so busy during those years that the only friends you have time for are the ones who have kids the same ages as yours and/or kids who are involved in the same activities.  But, her mom concluded (all of this from experience) that once you get those kids raised, you gravitate back to those “old” friends because “they knew you when” — and there is simply no replacement for that intimate knowledge.

As my friend and I sat at the water park and watched my baby play, I came to the conclusion that her mom’s predictions will prove to be true.  In the meantime, we’ll cherish these few get-togethers and do what we always do.  We laughed at some of the antics of our youth, and my friend promised to pray that my own children don’t try half the stuff we tried. We laughed even harder at the minor (and sometimes not so minor) dysfunctions in our families of origin. We talked about whether she might ever get married, and if not, will she try to have a baby without a husband.  She shared her exciting stories of global travel with me, and I shared stories of being a mom to a teenager, a pre-teen and baby all at once. And we talked about those years in the future when we can get together more often, maybe even travel together again.

I’m very thankful that we make the effort to stay in touch, even if our encounters are few and far between.  I know I’ll be glad when I’m old and she and I are attending Red Hat Ladies luncheons, or we’re sunning our wrinkled old bodies on a beach somewhere.

UPDATE May 9, 2015

Awesome morning exercising with one of my bestie’s since high 10258681_10152908937665488_3637393969448378393_nschool, Jan Wadsack . But the BEST part? The trip down memory lane! As we were leaving, she was following me because we were trying to find a place to have coffee near Creve Coeur Park. And this was in the rearview mirror because of Jan’s expired plates, of which she was unaware. It has been AGES — like 30 years — since these two daughters of police officers were pulled over together. Being that our dads, and Jan’s uncle, all wore the badge, we could not go ANYWHERE without some police officer keeping an eye on us. One officer in particular pulled us over regularly just to harass us. I wish I had thought to ask the officer today to pose with us for a photo with his lights a-blazing. Another bonus — he didn’t give Jan a ticket!

Parenting a Swimmer

REPUBLISHED FROM 2010

I’ve been a little hesitant to write this post because a Mom blogger always needs to be mindful of the privacy rights of her children. However, my teenage daughter has shared her swimming struggles somewhat publicly lately, and I thought if it would help another swimmer or another mom or dad struggling to parent a teenage athlete, then maybe it would be a good thing to share here.

My 14-year-old swims competitively and she is very serious about her sport. She has five sectional cuts, but since she turned 14 last spring, she has been adding lots of time in her events (not a good thing for you non-swimming readers).

Her body changed from the body of a child to the body of a woman, as is the case for many 14-year-olds. With those changes came some problems with her strokes. She worked very hard all summer and early this fall to correct those problems. She NEVER EVER misses a practice — early morning, evening, late afternoon, weekend, holiday — she’s there. She doesn’t back off at practice either — according to her coaches and some of her teammates, she is one of the hardest workers in the pool. She does the dry-land work that our swim club provides her, and she continues to compete in swim meets.

We attended a swim meet in Columbia, MO a few weeks ago at which she had hoped to come close to swimming her best times. It didn’t happen. She had big adds in her best events. Because she was feeling good about the progress she had made on her strokes, it was hard for her to experience this again. And because I’d heard some of the positive feedback regarding her stroke work, I also had higher expectations about what would happen this past weekend. So initially, I was was frustrated with the results, too.

But then I had some great conversations with other parents and with one of her coaches, and I have to say, I’m even more proud to be this young lady’s mother. The parents reassured me that this is so very normal. Many of them shared stories in which their own daughters went through the very same thing around the same age.

I’d heard this, but it helps to hear it again and again. Not all swimmers go through this, but a lot of them do, and many of them add time in their best events for more than a year. I remember one young lady in our club going through this a few years ago. She had been a “young star”  and then all of a sudden, she was adding time at every meet. At the time, I remember admiring her perseverance and telling my daughter to make a mental note of her work ethic. Of course, I hoped against hope that it “wouldn’t happen to my kid,” but I guess my daughter DID make a mental note, becuase she is now doing exactly what that young lady did. And you know what? That swimmer is one of my daughter’s biggest supporters, joking with her, reminding her of the struggles she endured, encouraging her to keep working hard at practice even when it’s not the popular thing to do. And her parents are among those reassuring me on a regular basis. That helps a lot.

One of the coaches told me that the she’s doing everything she should be doing to pull through this minus one — she needs to readjust her expectations. He said that when she competes in her next meet, she should look to drop off of her times from the meet in Columbia — NOT to drop time off her BEST times. He said it may still be months before she is coming close to swimming her best times. I cannot tell you how much that simple thing helped us. He also said as her parents, our job is to NOT get frustrated with her, but to support her.

He said part of supporting her includes never questioning the program she is following in front of her because she needs for us to believe in what she’s doing and in her coaches as much as she does.

We aren’t the kind of parents who question the program. I know there are parents who jump ship to another club the minute their kids start struggling, blaming the coaches or some aspect of the training program for the issue. That’s not us. But it was good to be reminded of this so that we can talk to her about how MUCH we believe in her coaches and in her training program.

So, we just had another meet this weekend, and we did the whole “adjusted expectations” thing. It was so liberating. And you know what — she DID drop from almost all the times she swam in Columbia. She didn’t hit any of her best times — the closest she came was 3 seconds in her 200 free. But she left the meet feeling successful. Her coaches told her that her strokes are back to looking like they should. Now, she just needs to work on doing them faster.

So, if you’re the parent of a swimmer who is going through this, I hope you have coaches who are as wise as our coaches and as willing to comfort and reassure parents. If you don’t, maybe this post will help you support your swimmer through his or her trials.

UPDATE: My daughter posted this in 2013 on her Facebook page with a comment thanking her Dad and I for being supportive of her during her swimming career. I was brought to tears by the sweet gesture, especially after I read the article. I like to think that we followed the advice in the article more often than not, and I really appreciated her saying that we had. I think it’s a good article to share again, because it’s something all parents of young athletes should try to remember — the message is “I love to watch you play.”!

http://growingleaders.com/blog/what-parents-should-say-as-their-kids-perform/