Monday, February 11, 2013

The Real Business of Parenthood

A few weeks before Christmas we got knocked flat with an ugly stomach bug.  Thankfully, I was still well when Henry came down with it and had recovered by the time Lily succumbed, so I was able to love them both through the worst of their misery.

When we were all well again, Nate and I had a conversation that was basically this:

Me: You know, I am not very good at certain aspects of motherhood, like sometimes the kids' fingernails get really long and scary.  And I don't do fancy birthday parties.  And I've never really sewn them anything.  And I'm not good at signing them up for lessons and sports. 

But when they are sick, I am good at slowing down.  I am good at saying no to everyone else.  I am good at making a sick bed on the floor in my room.  I am good at laying on the floor at 3 am, holding the barf bowl, rubbing his back, holding her hair.  I am good at empathy - telling them I know they're hurting and I'm sorry.  I'm a really good sick mom.  

And I was pretty much expecting Nate to look at me tenderly and reassure me that it was ok that I wasn't so good at those other things - and that it was a special gift that I was so sweet to our kids when they are sick. But instead he said:

yea, this is something I've been wanting to talk about. I think you should really set your mind to changing some of those things, mostly the part about not being good at signing the kids up for lessons and sports.  Our kids need to be involved in activities.  We want them to be talented, capable people and that will only happen if we facilitate opportunities to learn new skills.  And that means lessons and driving and a lot of effort on our part.  So I'm really glad you're nice to our kids when they're sick, but we really need to work on getting them involved...

And those words stung a little like any critique of your life's work does.  But they sank in.  And frankly, life had shown me their truth before Nate spoke them.  We had a few crumby moments around the holidays when talent shows and other opportunities for performing arose and my kids really weren't prepared to participate.  At all.  And I was trying to convince Henry that paper airplane folding is a talent.  And he wasn't buying it.  At all.  And I knew that we needed to change.

So the only thing I resolved aloud this January first was that I would help my kids develop their talents and broaden the scope of their exposure.  Henry would start music lessons.  And Lily would start something too.  He chose guitar.  She chose ballet.

Ballet is just dreamy.  Easy, short, near by, the highlight of Lily's life.
Guitar is...harder.  Practicing is a struggle (of course).  Progress is slow.  The lessons are in an obscure building in the armpit of town (with a huge graffiti portrait of Gene Simmons spray painted on the west facing wall).  But I'm glad we're doing it.

We're all growing, realizing that it's good to push ourselves beyond what we're naturally comfortable with, and that we have a remarkable capacity to absorb and expand and do more.  Nate and I are trying to learn, too.  Nate seems to be catching on with remarkable grace.  I want to say the "D" word every time I sit down to play.  (*guilty shrug*)  I'm hoping it gets easier.  This week I'm working on Yellow Submarine and am actually feeling a tiny bit successful, so that's something.

And with that extra time in the car going to and from our activities, we're burning through books on CD.  Happy bonus :)          


  1. Oh Emily I love this post and the pictures. I have just started Nathan in piano and James keeps begging to play guitar. I thought maybe it would be too hard at this age but is it doable? I'd love it if you could email me or something more about the guitar lesson experience. Did Henry know how to read music or play piano before guitar? I told James he needs to take piano first but maybe he doesn't.
    And about books on CD, have you ever listened to Hank the Cowdog? The kids and I love them! Jason doesn't seem to find them as funny as we do so maybe they are not for everyone but I think you guys might get a kick out of them.

  2. Em, I've thought so much about this post since I read it a couple of days ago. I admire you & your mothering so, so much.

    Good for you for making guitar learning a family affair! Justin & I went to the symphony last night and saw the most amazing classical guitarist perform - it was incredible. Love you! E

    p.s. I can't wait to hear the gender of the baby!

  3. I'm proud of you, Em. You are so good at being self aware and willing to change, expand, develop yourself. It is a truly admirable quality (among so many others you possess). Call me when you need some motivation/support/shoulder to cry on in regard to Henry and practicing the guitar. I have learned a lot this past year as James has been playing the violin.
    I love you, sweet cousin/friend :)