My eyes flew open at around 4am, without my conscious permission and before I was properly awake or even able to attempt to focus them. It took a moment for me to adjust to reality and to register that my brain was already engaged in its own mission (apparently having also recruited my eyes) and was racing through lists of items I had packed for my oldest daughter’s…my Moon’s…first away camp experience. Had I labeled everything? Did I remember to put those pants she wanted in the suitcase? Had I added them to the complete (maybe?) packing list that I had slipped into her backpack for repacking purposes? What time should we leave? Was she going to be ok? Her shortcomings ricocheted through my head like pinballs lighting up my doubts and fears and edging my heart ever closer to my throat.
When consciousness finally prevailed, one thought remained: oh no! am I THAT kind of mom? I have spent my life trying NOT to be THAT kind of mom…. What does that even mean? The more I think about it, the more I can see my own self doubt intermingling with the doubts and fears she has every right to feel, as she prepares to set off on a three week adventure away from everything and everyone she knows. The difference between us is that I KNOW she will be fine. Her shortcomings are such a small part of the whole a picture of who she is…the talented beautiful young woman she has become. It is my job to steel myself and to reassure her. She, like all of us (especially during those difficult teen years), is painfully aware of her shortcomings, and needs someone to remind her of her strengths in moments like these. She is the hesitant chick in the nest…the one that needs the most nudges. I temper my nudges with reassurance. I don’t want to shove her out of the nest even when I know she can fly. I want the decision to ultimately be her own.
So, we drive the five hours to the camp and I smile and chat with her, while silently telling my own brain to shut the hell up as it counts the miles and reminds me of the distance. The next morning I help her register and unpack her belongings with her in the cabin by the bunk she has chosen, while telling my brain to mind its own freaking business as it second guesses some of the items chosen. I quietly pass her a tissue and fight the urge to shed my own tears when she asks to take a picture of me with her digital camera so that she can have it with her while she is away. I completely leave it up to her whether or not she wants me to have lunch with her and her new cabin mates before I leave, and smile and nod when she says yes, though my brain would like for me to do a somersault and a fist pump. Then…when the time comes to leave, and she quietly whispers that she wants to come home with me, I use the last of my mom strength to fight the urge to grab her, throw her into the car and speed off toward home, and instead offer some words of reassurance. I then force my brain to allow me to release her from my bear hug, I wave as she heads back toward the unknown, get into the car and let the tears flow as I drive off. They are more tears of tension and and anxiety than of sadness. I am happy that she has this opportunity to mingle with other young people who share her love of music and the arts in general. I KNOW she will not only be fine…but that she will be FANTASTIC.
Once I am home again, I begin to focus on the next event. In a couple of weeks I will be sending her sister, my Sun, off to her first sleep away camp! Again the packing and list making begins. This time, though, the anxiety level is much lower…not only because the camp will be much shorter, but because she absolutely and with no hesitation cannot wait to go! When she was around 8 years old, we once found her sobbing in utter desperation because we would not send her off to boarding school. She is the chick that, despite not even knowing quite how to fly, is fighting to dive out of the nest. She is the chick that I have one firm hand on…while I am nudging her sister. And THAT is when it hits me… I know what kind of mother I am…or, at least, hope to be.
I am not ANY “kind” of mother…. I am just doing the best I can with what I have. There are SO many labels out there, so many prescriptions for the best way to raise children, so much advice and so many scary scenarios thrown our way. It can really be quite overwhelming…. Don’t misinterpret: I love advice and trying new techniques while raising my children. It’s the labels of which I am not fond. Am I a “helicopter mom”? Sometimes. Am I a “free range mom”? Sometimes. Do I sometimes second guess my parenting decisions? Definitely.
Why is it hard for me to say what kind of mother I am? Because it has to do not only with the kind of person I am and the way I, myself, grew up, but with the kind of people that my children are. Yes, I am an influence on who they are, but they are also individuals with very different personalities. My personal experience has been that there is no “one size fits all” when disciplining them, reassuring them, or raising them in general. While the first one needed two naps a day as a toddler, the next one needed none (rough years indeed….), and the third, in an answer to many a prayer, needed one. My Moon is shy, reserved, and suspicious, unless she is up on stage performing. My Sun is outgoing, bombastic, and sometimes a bit too trusting. Little Man is…hmmm…that one is difficult. Little Man is a delightful enigma who manages to surprise me on a daily basis with his twisting turning logic and original points of view. Time outs worked for one, but not for the other two. One clings to routine, while the other two thrive more on improvisation…to different degrees. Given their sometimes extreme differences, it is quite logical that they would need different “kinds” of mothering. They say that the “squeaky wheel gets the oil”, but in their case…they are ALL squeaky in some way. They all need oil in different amounts at different times. It’s up to us as parents to try to figure out how much and when…NOT by following someone’s prefabricated formula for raising children, but by trying to know and listen to our individual children. There are times when I feel like the circus performer who spins the plates atop the poles. In an attempt to keep them all spinning smoothly, the performer must keep a watchful eye on the lot of them and gently spin each one when it is needed. As with the plates, there are times that more than one child may need an intervention at the same time, but other moments when they are all happily “spinning” on their own. Of course, with the kids the goal is to ultimately have them spinning on their own and able to propel themselves when necessary…but I am still a ways off from that. In the meantime, I will fight the urge to hop into the car, and invade the camp to “rescue” one daughter, while trying to make certain the other is at least glancing before she leaps, and enjoying infinitely interesting and logic-defying conversations with Little Man.