The weeks go by and the weeks go by. You know the year is flying by when your youngest says, that went quickly. Nothing makes time seem more fleeting than your youngest child getting older.
We measure our lives by achievements in the physical and only when we have had a physical loss do we become aware of other forms of achievements. I feel one of my greatest achievements has been learning to like, love and look after myself. Not that long ago I asked my son how would he know when he had high self esteem. His answer? Well, I’ll have a car and a bike and a house and a boat… (We live in the bush). I answered that they were things and things can be easily lost. Figuring that ‘self esteem’ may be the wrong question, I asked, how do you love yourself?
This turned into a considerable family discussion. How do you like yourself? How do you love yourself? How do you look after yourself? The general consensus by those under 18 was how much good stuff could you buy. I was momentarily speechless. These were the children who had grown up in my care, the children who had decided with me that family outings were preferable to buying new furniture. I am the mother who forewent all manner of things to take my children on a secret holiday, the topic of many trips down memory lane. I am the mean mother who refused to buy electronic games for a son whose obsession with them caused him to discuss characters as though they were friends. (I was the mother who was horribly confused for quite some time.) I am the mother who still sends her children to play outside. I am the mother who kindly says “only boring people get bored.”
How then did these children of mine learn that liking or loving yourself depended on what you could buy yourself? These are the same children, mind you, who would rather go without than put in extra effort to earn money. (I am also the mother who enjoyed ‘going on strike’ on the odd occasion their laxness got too much.) I asked them how they would buy themselves these things if they didn’t want to work? That appeared to be unanswerable. “We’ll get jobs” from them was met by rapture from me. I am the mother, after all, who has worked most of their lives.
Where did my children pick these ideas up and how come they had more sway than what I taught them? Only now in my 26 year old Daughter am I seeing a foregoing of brands and must-haves for a simpler life. Only now am I seeing a young woman determined to like, love and look after herself. She acknowledges the lessons she learnt from me and is closer to appreciating a simpler life than she has ever been. I hold out hope for the others. I have to say that moving through the stages of parenthood are very challenging.
When they are tiny, you are wonderful and to be obeyed because if Mum’s happy, everyone’s happy. Then they get a little attitude and you have to shift from loved and adored parent to the negotiator. You just get a handle on that and you get the I don’t care, nothing matters. Here you have a choice. You can either be firm and emphatic or gentle and encouraging. I switched between them to keep everyone on their toes. I am, after all, the mother who ran out of shops while my children were engaged, cackling like a chicken, leaving them behind. At least it made them keep an eye on me and caused me much amusement.
I discovered that if I made things work for me, then they had choices within boundaries. My boundaries but then I’m not superwoman. My grandson throws wobblies, banging his little head on the ground. I regard him calmly while people around cast me looks and say “ you can do that or Grandma can carry you or you could walk and we will…” (add in enticement). He will get up and walk with me. Unfortunately teens are heavier.
By the time you are used to being a teen parent, they are out off into the world and don’t need you for awhile (until something goes wrong). That’s all fine. Challenging, heart-rending at times but fine. What I do hope is that I have led by example and they know how to like, love and look after themselves without being self-indulgent and self-obsessed (Youngest Daughter fills my ipad with selfies. I have hundreds of them. Heh heh heh. I find uses.). So, what did I do when I discovered that buying stuff was their answer to liking, loving and looking after themselves?
We kept talking. I kept asking. I knocked all the ‘stuff’ off as things that come and go. Exhibit A, barbie dolls. Youngest Daughter had dozens of the damn creepy things and those ones whose feet came off. Ugh. I’d find bits all over the house with either child or dog or both teeth marks in them. She’d take off their clothes, then their arms, then their legs and then their heads. After all, their feet came off. Then she’d want me to put them back together. Couldn’t do it. Don’t know how they went together in the first place but damned if I could get those creepy things back in shape. The dog loved them. Those dolls are like self esteem, once taken apart, it never fits back together in the same way. You have to start again and build anew.
By the time our discussion had pared all their ideas down to just having yourself and how do you like, love and look after yourself, they really did not seem to know. I asked them if I liked myself and they said yes. I asked them did I love me and they said yes. I asked them did I look after myself and they said yes, albeit a little uncertainly. Then I asked them how was it that I liked, loved and looked after myself? I am a large woman of happy features. I have never been beautiful. Conundrum.
Then I told them the secret. I decided. Then I practiced. I get better at it as time goes by.
That is a much better way to measure my life.
(c) CLHHarper 17/10/2014