My Strong-Willed Child

He’s the child I never knew I missed.

I wasn’t quite ready…but you can see Vincent was 🙂

He’s the one that made us say, “If he’d been first…he might have been last.”

He loves to say “CHEESE!”

He tests my patience. Yet he fills my heart so full it could burst.

He wanted us to have “silly sticker noses”

I’d always heard about this thing called a “strong-willed” child. I thought, perhaps, I had seen glimpses in my other children. But I only learned how naive I had been when Vincent was born into our family. Because our experience with him highlighted for me that the glimpses of “strong will” we’d seen in the other children were just your normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill challenges of normal-tempered children at different stages. Vincent showed us that “strong willed child” means strong-will, all the time, every day, every minute, with every choice and every occasion.

Vincent goes all-out, all the time. Even in the beginning–I can look back to pregnancy and labor/delivery and say, “I should have known…”

Vincent was the one of my pregnancies where we checked progesterone early and often and it just kept plummeting. It was Vincent who wouldn’t cooperate at 12 weeks and let the doctor get a good heart beat with the doppler thingy and so he had to do a pelvic and jumble things around until we heard it and put my mind at ease. It was Vincent who forced his way to 27 hours of induced labor including 16 hours of “good” contractions before finally deciding to descend and be born in the matter of about 5 minutes. All on his time, you see. I joked with my doctor about whether this was a “5th child” thing — the kid taking his sweet time to be born (my doctor had shared that he was a 5th child…) Honestly, the newborn months are a blur (as they are with all the kids), but as we emerged into our new normal, Vincent still exhibited this all-out, all the time personality.

Three-and-a-half years in, I regularly acknowledge that Vincent is my strong-willed child. He’s wild. He’s loud. And…he gets what he wants more often than not.

He loves cars…so surely he enjoyed playing this game with his daddy.

I’ve tried to be a mother twho “chooses” the “battles” carefully. But I never had so many to choose from before Vincent! I never realized how blessed I was with the older four that “choosing my battle” meant just once or twice a week. Because with Vincent I am choosing between 6 or 7 a day (sometimes the choice between 6 or 7 happens between 6:15 and 7:15 a.m.!!)

The fact that Vincent is 3-and-a-half-years-old now only exacerbates the issue because now he can talk (and yell, scream, etc) and make sure we know what he wants and that he won’t back down. Sometimes I force my hand and he has to do it my way — and I’m rewarded with a screamfest for the ages. More times than I like to admit, I give in and decide it is not worth it to fight.

A mom often ponders whether she is doing a good job at being a mom. When the kids are older, you start to realize that each of them has a personality and temperament that determines how they behave and what kind of mom you are seems to have less and less to do with anything. With Vincent, I question even more, my abilities, than I did with the other kids.

He’s the first one that’s been in daycare for his whole life, we’ve had an awesome experience with our daycare, too. The woman who cares for Vincent all day is gentle, kind, loving and still firm — is his experience the reason he is so different?

Vincent is the first of my kids to reach this age without another child joining the family (on Earth) — does that motivate him to behave the way he does? I experience so much more of Vincent because I don’t have a baby on my hip, I’m convinced. Is my perception colored by this new and different experience? I am sure it is.

And perhaps my perception is colored, too, by the fact that I miss his little brother at times. Who knows what kind of child Vincent would be with Gregory tagging along…?

Sitting in the Darth Vader chair…hmmmm

While Vincent takes so much of my energy with regard to discipline and formation, he also replenishes my emotional stores faster than I remember it happening with the other kids. Vincent works hard and loves harder. He looks up to Dominic with a ferocity I haven’t seen in the other kids. He pays enough attention to his sisters that he knows which of them can provide him with what he wants when he wants it. He makes my heart melt when he requests a hug and a kiss before I leave the house or leave him at daycare. He doesn’t say “I love you” all the time like the other kids did when they first realized how much I liked hearing them say it. But he says it when I least expect it and I can feel his emotion reaching my heart every time he says it.

A strong-willed child is a special experience. Yes, it can be difficult and worrisome. But, at least in my case, it’s accompanied by such passion! I love that. 

It is only because Vincent joined our family, that I am able to experience it.


Mother’s Day Reflection

Have I ever mentioned that my parents divorced when I was 8 years old?  Just wondering if I’d ever mentioned that before.

Mother’s Day is one of those awkward days for me.  None of the cards say what I would say to my own mother.  I rarely even shop for a card anymore.  The sentiment just isn’t quite right in most of the cards on the shelf.  
Even as I work through the pain and resentment I have regarding my mom-issues (like I did with my dad-issues), I actually had a little break through this Mother’s Day.
I thought about all the things my mom did right and tried not to think of the things I resented.  And, I must admit, I can list reasons to admire, respect and love my mom.
1)  While we were growing up, my mom never had a boyfriend.  Seriously.  My mom did not date strange men while she raised the five of us by herself.  One could argue she simply didn’t have time for all that.  But I believe it was purposeful.  Have you ever watched the news and seen horrible stories about abused kids who land in the hospital?  Or even those worst-case scenarios where a child has been beaten to death?  Have you ever paid attention to how many of the abusers were “the mother’s boyfriend”?  Looking back, I believe it was absolutely intentional that my mother didn’t date…she couldn’t bear the thought of someone sexually molesting her daughters, or beating her children.  
2)  My mom worked her you-know-what off.  My mom had to care for the five of us, go to nursing school full-time, buy the groceries, pay the bills.  No matter how much I want to focus on ways she screwed any of that up…the truth of the matter is that 98% of the time, she did the right thing and she did the best she could do.  Sure, there were hiccups along the way…she lost her mind and lashed out at us in anger.  But when I think about the fact that the woman was trying to take care of five stubborn, loud-mouth, high-energy kids while she was trying to learn Anatomy, Physiology, Kinesthetics, Statistics, pay the bills, keep her own sanity and so on…well, I doubt I could be 100% loving 100% of the time either.
3)  My mom made sure I made it to swim meets growing up…every weekend…every practice.  My mom made sure we made it to all volleyball games and basketball games and track meets as we got older.  She never made excuses like, “I really have to study for my exams, you’re going to have to miss your game” and she never made us feel bad for having a game when she really should have been at the library.  And she always cheered us on and was happy no matter HOW POORLY we might have played that day.  No matter what, we were the best players on the court.  No matter what, she was sure to tell everyone how proud of us she was.
I could probably think of more, but those are the things I am thinking about right now.  I think it’s good for me to remember that my mom didn’t get a manual for raising children that came with each of us just like I didn’t get a manual for raising my own children.  She is a human being who was bound to make some mistakes…just like I make mistakes.  I can’t hold a grudge or remain angry with my mother over things that hurt me as a child and memories that rear their ugly heads every now and again.  Even with some bad experiences and some hurts, I can still see that my mother loved me and my siblings more than anything.  She sacrificed so much.  Sure, it’s not like she CHOSE to sacrifice the way she did and chances are she’d never CHOOSE to do it all over again.  But, she did what the Lord asks us all to do…she picked up her cross and she carried it…with Grace.
My mother called me on Saturday.  We talked for a little bit.  I was exhausted as we’d had a track meet that morning and I didn’t really feel like talking.  But I talked to her anyway.  We had a nice chat and wished each other a Happy Mother’s Day.  I thought about the fact that maybe Mother’s Day is an awkward day for her, too.  
Anyway, after we hung up, my cell phone rang again and it was my mom’s number…she must have forgotten something.  I picked it up and said “hello” but my mother wasn’t talking to me.  I heard her talking to her husband (apparently I was “butt-dialed” LOL).  And she was singing my praises.  She was telling her husband what a great mom I was.  She was telling him that she needed to call me and tell me that she knew I was a terrific mom.  She was listing all I have going on right now, “I mean, you know…she has those four kids and one on the way…and she’s coaching Sarah in track.  I mean, she’s coaching LOTS of kids, not even just Sarah!  And she works full-time!  She is so busy!!
And it was right then all of a sudden that I realized that I do all I do because I watched my mom handle so much on her own.  The tables could be turned…it could be me telling people about my own mom…”I mean, she had five kids and she had to take care of them all by herself.  She takes care of the grocery-shopping and the bill-paying and she takes them all to swim meets, and ball games.  oh yeah, and she goes to nursing school full-time!!  She is so busy!!!
Maybe I need to lay to rest all the “demons” in the form of memories that do nothing but serve to stir up feelings of resentment toward a woman who sacrificed much for me and my siblings.  Sure, my childhood wasn’t perfect.  But those are my crosses and Jesus walks with me as I carry them.  I learned some valuable lessons about raising children – what to do and what I wouldn’t choose to do.  
But it’s obvious that I learned some really great things from my mom.  I learned to sacrifice my wants and desires and needs for others.  I learned to carry my cross.  And I learned to find ways to be happy even when sorrow abounds.

I learned how to love…from my mother.

Nature Vs. Nurture

I am naturally on the heavy side when it comes to stature and body type.  I grew up believing I was fat.  Looking back on it, I probably wasn’t.  I was probably built a lot like my daughter, Helen, nice and solid through the legs and hips with strong, slightly broad shoulders.  But, I never believed as a child that I was cute or strong or pretty.

I remember being told I had been “sneaking food” and I remember having a large appetite, even as young as four or five, and having my mother scorn me for eating too much.  My mother often told me that the “doctor” put me on a diet when I was two years old because I was so fat.  And I remember that my mother loved to tell me how cute and “petite” my sister was…(well, she was a tiny little thing as a child) but I think the nature in which she expressed this to me, often felt like a “why can’t you stop eating so much so you can be more like your sister?”
It got worse when my parents divorced.  In the third grade in the spring, my mom told me she was putting me on the swim team because I was “getting too chunky.” Maybe a year later, my cousin (who is two-and-a-half years older than I) sent me some clothes she’d grown out of.  I remember when the box arrived…my mom quickly began pulling things out to try on me…and she gave me a pair of pants…I put them on and buttoned them and tried to zip them only to hear my mother say (in her disappointed/exasperated voice), “ look like a sausage!  You are so fat!  Take those off.”  And as I tried to remove them, the zipper wouldn’t unzip, the snap or button broke and the pants were somehow ruined and this was cause for a major punishment for me.  
My mom restricted the food I ate and I know part of it was due to finances, but she often referred to my unacceptable state of fat-ness.  She lumped me and my older brother together…we had our “father’s metabolism,” or “we really had to watch it” and we “would be really fat if it weren’t for her.”  She was saving us from ourselves.  All that jazz.
The summer after my fifth grade year, my mom got home from the grocery store one night and we were on our way out to help bring things in.  She got to my brother first and basically punched him square in the gut without saying a word to him.  I only saw him double over in front of me and didn’t know what was coming.  She came to me next and she punched me, but left her hand in my stomach and pinched it so hard, I bruised.  Apparently, she was upset.  She had checked ice cream and milk before she’d gone to the store and she was convinced my brother and I had eaten all of the ice cream and drank all of the milk and caused her to have to purchase more when she wasn’t expecting to.  As soon as we were inside we were lambasted with her yelling about what filthy pigs we were and don’t we know we are so fat and it’s all because we sneak all the food? 
By the end of the summer after my 6th grade (with benefit of 2-a-day swim practices and major growth spurt), I was tall and skinny.  My mom couldn’t be happier.  Or could she?  She constantly reminded me that I needed to swim or do something active to keep the weight off.  I quit swimming year-round in 7th grade, and naturally, began to fill out like most 13 and 14-year-olds do.  My mother was constantly harping on me about my weight and she filled the refrigerator and cupboards with “low-fat” this and “diet” that.  It was a constant focus around our house.
High school was more of the same.  My mom continued to comment about my weight.  Rarely was she showering me with compliments, either.  She would make unkind comments about other girls and how they looked and then compare us to them (of course we were worse…although every once in awhile we’d get, “well, at least you’re not as bad as ________”). 

My mother grew up in a dysfunctional family environment.  She was the oldest of the four children and she often described for us how embarrassed she was of her sister, who was severely obese.  My mother spoke of days when people would say to her, “You’re the only normal sized one in your family…what happened after you?”  So, her resentment of heavy people was deeply rooted and difficult to expel.  And she was acutely aware and nervous that any of her children might end up like any of her other siblings.

As an adult, I’ve recognized the impact of my upbringing.  It’s a fact:  I’m someone who constantly struggles with weight.  When I gain weight when pregnant, it really wears me down.  If I don’t lose it quickly after I have the baby, it really wears me down.  My weight fluctuates in such a way that’s probably not the most healthy.  I’ve never settled into a regular healthy-eating pattern where my weight stayed within a 5-7 pound range.  I’m not sure how much of it is my nature and how much is because of the way I was raised.  I’ll never know that.
As a mom, it’s been difficult to feel comfortable as I attempt to manage my children.  I am hell-bent on NOT repeating the behavior and treatment my mother gave to me, but then, I wonder if I am doing a disservice to my children who might not be making the best choices.  I try to present food and dietary considerations as “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” choices and the balance that’s required.  But so often I wonder if I am failing somewhere else where this is concerned.  I want my children to be active, but I want them to WANT to do what they do.  
I’m thankful at this juncture that I haven’t witnessed unkind comments about appearance between my children, and I pray I never will.  I have heard stories of problems in schools at the ages my children are reaching, though, and I begin to panic.  What if someone undoes all my hard work with one unkind comment or gesture directed toward one of my kids?  No matter how hard I have worked to build my children up to see that they are beautiful and wonderfully made in the Lord’s eyes…one mean comment from a classmate, or an acquaintance can undo it all.

My biggest focus has become to help us all view each other and ourselves as images of God.  God, our Heavenly Father, created us.  We need to maintain and care for our bodies.  We need to keep them healthy and strong.  We must yearn to see what God sees within and without.