14 Circles Around the Sun: Celebrating My Son

Today, my first-born turns fourteen. His birthday always brings back memories of past celebrations. I remember his first fish-themed birthday party in Winston-Salem. We invited all of the neighborhood babies and my new-mom friends, who helped me survive my first year of motherhood…I remember his fourth birthday in Omaha and our first with extended family: My brother-in-law made a surprise appearance as Spiderman. He wore a Youth XL costume that I found on clearance. (Yes, it was WAY too small and slightly inappropriate.) He joyfully shot silly string around our house and on my son’s new neighborhood friends… I also remember celebrating my son’s short-lived electric guitar lesson phase with a rock ‘n’ roll birthday party in our unfinished basement. My husband and father-in-law lovingly built a “real stage” for the preschoolers and hip hop dance instructors to perform on…

My son’s birthday always brings back images of him carrying the Earth around the Sun, one circle for each year…Oh, how I miss his Montessori preschool and his beloved fire truck slippers! I remember sitting patiently at the edge of the circle, counting each unhurried orbit and feeling like life was moving in slow motion.  During the preschool years, each day felt LONG with hours that needed to be filled. Now, I am amazed by how quickly each year and phase has passed.

When I first met my son he weighed five pounds and was small enough to fit in the palm of my husband’s hand. Today, he stands several inches taller than me and has become a person that I look up to both literally and figuratively. In the beginning, I was my son’s teacher. I tried to lead by example, demonstrating the importance of “pleases” and “thank yous.” I showed him how to share and to take turns. I worked really hard (and not always successfully) to teach him the difference between indoor voices and outdoor voices. Actually, we are still working on this lesson.  I’ve always wanted him to maximize his potential academically and to find and follow his extracurricular interests…but my highest goal is to raise a kind kid. Ultimately, that is how I will always measure my success as a mother and his success as a man.

But, somewhere along the line, my son started leading by his example.  He taught me that there is more than one way to do things and that my way isn’t the only one.  So, to celebrate my son’s birthday, I want to acknowledge some valuable lessons that I’ve learned by being his mom:

Be Authentic.

My son has always walked to the beat of his own drum. There was a time when I wanted desperately for him to just fall in line…to sit quietly without waving his hand around and firing off one question after another at his poor teacher…to color inside the lines. But with time, I’ve come to see his insatiable curiosity, strong will and inability to follow the pack as qualities that while challenging to mother will serve him well in life.

Be Loyal.  

If you become my son’s friend, he will always have your back. He’s the kind of kid who will literally jump into a fight to defend a friend…will write a petition to stand up for a friend’s injustice…will volunteer to take a demerit for a buddy who is in danger of redirection room. As his mother, I cannot condone these actions. But, I admire the way he looks out for his friends, stands up for what he believes is right and always wants to help a friend in need.

Laugh a Little (or a Lot).

At times, my husband and I may error on the side of taking life a little too seriously. I think that is why we were blessed with a son who can add humor to literally any situation. I love that he can make his little sister and brother laugh when they really want to pull out their hair in frustration with him. This summer, he spent nearly a week away from our family.  His absence was marked by a strangely quiet house and unusually tidy bedroom… I missed his laugh and welcomed back both his noise and perpetually unmade bed!

The Same = Boring.

At fourteen, my son’s greatest loves are muscle cars, biking, fishing and conservative politics.  He’s completely self-taught and knows more about these subjects than the rest of the family combined.  Our family shares many common values. But, we have learned that life is a lot more interesting if we think independently and accept and appreciate each other’s differences.

I often find myself wondering where my son came from?  One look at him and there is no denying that he is mine. I am so proud of him and grateful for all of the gifts that he’s brought into my life. As I look ahead, I feel excited for his future.  It will be fun to support his journey.  I can’t help but wonder where life will take him in the next 14 years?

xo Kara

 

 

Less is More.

8.17.18

I remember when I was a new mom and made the decision to stay home full-time with my first-born son.  I decided to treat motherhood like a career.  I studied parenting books, listened to parenting podcasts, joined mommy groups and filled my days with “enriching activities,” like Book Babies at the library and Kindermusik.  My husband would come home from work and ask about my day: I’d proudly tick off all of the things we’d “accomplished.”

As our family grew from three to four and finally to five, I continued to add activities with each additional child. Last summer, I often felt like a pinball: bouncing from one drop-off to the next pick-up.  I heard myself bark orders at my kids, “Hurry up and change out of your swimsuit. It’s time for math camp!”  “Hustle! We need to eat lunch in the car, so we can to make it to tennis on time.”  I would wake up at 5:30 each morning in order to find time to attend a yoga class or to run and shower before swim team at 8 a.m. At the end of each day, I felt exhausted and unfulfilled. I missed the lazy days of summer when my kids were in preschool, back when time was measured by rest break whistles and afternoons included naps at home.

This summer, for the first time, I took a dramatically different approach to scheduling my kids’ activities.  First, I told the kids that they weren’t allowed to do swim team. I didn’t want to drag them out of bed each morning at 7:30. And, selfishly, I wanted to eliminate three trips to the pool before 10 a.m. Unlike previous summers, math camp was not offered at our school. Consequently, I eliminated four trips to the school to drop off and to pick up kids after swim team practice. I also told the kids that we were going to skip all summer camps.  In the past, my kids signed up for various sport camps and educational camps at local colleges and museums.  Instead, each kid picked a single activity for each day…and the rest of the time was free for creativity, reading, biking, swimming and just being kids.

My husband and I plotted out time for old-fashioned family vacations. We went on a road trip to the Black Hills and took hikes, caught fish and visited Mount Rushmore.  We spent nearly a week in a cabin without WI-FI or cell phone reception. We played board games, read books, enjoyed campfire s’mores…and each other.

We also spent a week exploring beautiful Oregon as a family. We went rafting, biking and hiking near Mount Hood.  The kids swam in the river and jumped off rocks.  We visited the Coast and caught crabs, discovered starfish, saw seals and witnessed the majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The result? We had the best summer ever. It taught me that less is more.  I would never argue that kids don’t need a little structure or routine; but, by eliminating all of the extras and allowing my kids time to just be kids, we created a summer that was both restful and “enriching” in a completely different way. The unscheduled time allowed my thirteen-year-old to discover a love for fishing and biking, which gave him a new independence. The unscheduled time provided the opportunity for my twelve-year-old to launch a slime business with a friend; it taught them real-life lessons about profit, loss and successful marketing plans.  And, the unscheduled time enabled my seven-year-old to build forts, create Lego action scenes and simply play with friends…something that was difficult to fit into our previously over-scheduled calendar.

This summer, I learned that it’s okay to not fill every free minute of our life with “enriching” activities. I found that there is real value in unstructured playtime.  I discovered that it’s okay to carve out a little piece of my day for myself. I also realized that my kids are getting old enough to take on more responsibilities around the house, which is actually a positive parenting move. Yes, this summer taught me a lot of important life lessons. And, I’m sure that if my new-mom self could travel through time and witness my evolved approach to motherhood, she’d think that I was doing everything wrong! The truth: Now, I know better.

xo Kara

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