Monday, January 30, 2012
X Games- Xtreme Parenting
If I’ve learned anything in my twenty years of being a mom, it’s that parenting is a roller coaster of extremes. When a newborn lives in your house, you vacillate between severe and utter exhaustion and severely incredible awe and joy. The toddler who can’t seem to figure out the potty chair can make you want to scream one minute, then melt your heart the next, when he proclaims, with his most sincere voice, “Oh, I just WUV you, mama!”
It continues into elementary school, then high school. And I guess I thought it would all even out, once they graduated from high school. This week I found out I was wrong.
My last post was about a heart wrenching night I had with my young adult daughter. Our life is in flux right now, and both of us are feeling it in our own way. A series of circumstances left both of us crying ourselves to sleep, until morning light could help us clear the air. The next day we took a trip to Sonic, and as we sipped our Slushees, we hashed it all out. I felt much lighter as we drove back home and dove back into our chaotic temporary living situation.
But it changed me just a little, as every upsetting (and joyful) parenting moment does. The familiar doubts about how I’m failing these children as their mother crept back in. I had to pull out the standard pep talks, to remind myself of the things I’m doing right, and to pull myself back up to get back in the game.
I love parenting older kids, but it’s also very hard. This fact didn’t surprise me, since I’ve been pretty much terrified of raising teenagers from the moment I laid eyes on my first newborn. I’m a toddler/preschooler kind of person. I got a degree in Elementary Education, but only partially because my college guidance counselor wisely reminded me that it would ‘go farther’ than a degree in Early Childhood Education. I’ve never, ever dreamed of teaching any child over the age of 10. Those double digit kids were hard to teach, I was sure, and even harder to parent.
But then my kids started turning double digits and I still liked them. In fact, they got funnier, since they could understand grownup jokes (finally) and the conversations we had went deeper. I could truly discuss things with them, and pour into them life lessons about love and relationships, knowing they might actually remember my words. I quickly learned that if I were flexible enough to adapt my parenting style, to respect their need for independence, there didn’t have to be a lot of yelling and slamming of doors.
But I also learned that the hiccups in our relationship could also go deeper and hurt on a whole new level. I became more vulnerable, as we started to form more friendship- like relationships. I find myself stepping back sometimes, and watching my two older kids, wondering who they are (one of them just turned 20 and the other turns 19 tomorrow). A good chunk of their life is outside my nest. They have friends, experiences, and interactions that I’ll never know about. Their lives are full of inside jokes that I’ll never understand, with people I may never meet.
I used to be in complete control of their play dates, friend choices and daily comings and goings. Now I’m a spectator, sometimes craving a peek inside. I feel like I’m on a tightrope some days, balancing the relationship, as I soak in stories they casually tell (if I don’t pry too much), then turning around and making their dinner and meeting their basic needs, like I did when they were six.
So back to my weekend of extremes. One night I’m crying myself to sleep, wondering how I once again failed my own child, and wondering if we’d ever find our middle ground, and then a mere 24 hours later I’m standing on a sunny hillside, watching three of my children have one of the best days of their lives (because of something *I* pulled off).
That part of the story started a few weeks ago, when I noticed that the Winter X Games were taking place just a few hours from our new home. We are a family of outdoor sports, mostly winter sports, and mostly extreme versions of those sports. Winter X Games is our Academy Awards, especially on years when there are no Winter Olympics to watch. Those athletes are our rock stars.
Last year, as we watched the Games, on our couch in New York, I made a mental note to myself. If the Colorado job came through, and we ended up moving there, we were most definitely going to be attending in person when 2012 rolled around. Then suddenly, the big move had happened, and the X Games were on the horizon.
My youngest was psyched. He is an excellent skier, and a beginning snowboarder. He can ski for six days straight, then want to turn around and ski the seventh. He’s all about the jumps at the terrain park, and dodging trees in the woods. Every event at the X Games makes him excited.
The two older boys were okay with going, but not as thrilled as I had hoped. It’s been a year since we saw the Games on TV and they’ve become involved in their regular lives here in our mountain town. One of them truly preferred to stay here, to be able to hang out with his friends, over driving to Aspen, to see the Games.
I had to go with my gut. I made them go.
I was deeply suspicious that once they got there, it would be a day they’d never forget. Their sister had planned to stay home alone, and have the apartment to herself for a whole day. I had no problem with that. She has her own (girl stuff) world , and the more space I give her, the happier she is. But the boys…I knew the boys needed to see at least one X Games in person, especially since we live so close to them. I had to insist they all attend, even the not so enthusiastic.
Saturday rolled around, cold but sunny. We crawled out of bed very early (terrible mom comments all around - waking up EARLY on a SATURDAY?) and hit the road. Within a half an hour we had to change plans. The highway headed west was bumper to bumper with ski traffic. There was no way we’d make it if we sat in that mess.
So hound dog husband found a smaller, side road, and we spent a few hours winding through the amazing scenery of Western Colorado. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. The sun streaming in the windows, the boys in the back, laughing and joking with each other, and suddenly it started to become one of those once in a lifetime days you never want to forget.
We stopped at the tiny store near South Park to get our favorite fudge. We found it on our house hunting trip to CO, nearly a year ago, and it has become family tradition. We made our way through small mountain towns, where you have to wonder where the residents buy their groceries and gas, and then down long roads with breathtaking views. Eventually we caught up with I-70 once again, and were relieved to see that the ski traffic had all found their resorts and cleared off our path.
The shuttle parking lot was right where the online directions had said it would be, and before noon we were walking under the big banner that graced the big blue X. Ahead of us were the things we’d only seen on TV. The Super Half Pipe. The Big Air jumps, made of ridiculously tall mountains of snow. The rows of vendor booths, giving away every kind of ski and snowboard related trinket you could think of. The awe started to finally sink in for my older boys.
By the end of the day my mommy gratitude tank was topped off. I’d stood at the base of the Boarder Cross race with my little guy, and been sprayed with the snow of the finishing racers, exchanging ‘Can you believe it?!’ glances with him. I’d watched my oldest son, my stoic boy, just at the edge of giddy, as he got a prime spot to watch the skiers fly 100 feet over his head. I was possibly more excited than he was, when my middle boy saw one of his few life heroes (a legend in the BMX world) and raced up to him with a sharpie to get an autograph he’ll probably keep in his possessions until he’s my age.
It was an amazing day. The athletes were awe inspiring. Seeing the X Games up close was a dream. But for me, the mom who is in a constant game of ‘am I doing right by them?’, it was perfect.
There was excited sharing of stories, as we stood in line, waiting for the shuttle bus to take us back to the parking lot. And it continued, as we drove the long dark road home. As we stopped by a Taco Bell halfway home, to feed empty tummies something warm, the magic was still in the air. The easy laughter my children shared, that I’ve seen so many times in the past, when conditions are right, filled up my soul.
I can’t say I ‘m thankful for extremes. When the pendulum swings to the bad side, I’m rarely considering the good parts of parenting. But oh, how sweet. How very, very sweet it is, when it finally swings back…so far back…and once again fills up my tank.