• Lijing Cobb

Invitation to authenticity

Yesterday when my 7yo was having an argument with her siblings and was crying and trying to get her words out, I stuck out my hand and started counting with my fingers, 1, 2, 3, signaling the end of our conversation and a dire warning that she needs to remove herself to her room, or suffer the consequence. A strategy I used to employ all the time in unruly situations when I wanted to end the disharmony quickly and decisively. I had not used it for a while, but the fingers popped up on their own accord yesterday and I did not stop them.

Not this again. What’s going on? Why do I feel like a fake?

It’s a long weekend but yesterday I saw 4 clients while all my kids were home. Every one of the clients I saw asked me how my weekend was, and my answer was a generic “Good. How was yours?” Diversion, because it was hard for me to recall exactly what happened over the weekend.

On Saturday I wrote from 5:20-9:48. My plan to make breakfast for them went sideways when I realized that there was no way I could finish my blog before they all starved to death, so I asked them to forage in the fridge on their own instead. When I finally finished and walked downstairs, my kids were playing with their Pokemon cards. “Kill me now,” my 7yo says to one of her siblings. “I have 70 life left, he has 90. Damage him.” My 10yo advises my 7yo. These kids and the games they play. I have no idea what they are all about, and I don’t bother finding out why the 7yo wants to be killed.

Then my day went by in a blur. At some point I sat down at the table with my kids and played some cards with them briefly. My 10yo was very distracted by her book, and I wanted to read my book, so I bowed out and read my book while eating sunflower seeds (read: I have a sunflower seeds addiction and I knew I was feeding it. Read also: doing two things at the same time, while I repeatedly gave my 10yo a hard time for reading her book and playing cards at the same time). When I had enough sunflower seeds, I told my kids that I was going upstairs to take a nap before we head out to grandma’s for our scheduled visit. Although we were supposed to arrive at 2pm, by the time I got myself ready to go it was already 4pm. I have no idea what my kids did during that time, and I do not bother finding out. I might not want to know.

You could say that I faked my way through from 9:48am to 4pm on Saturday.

On Sunday morning I started working on my blog at 5:40. I needed to do a lot of research and reading for that blog, so I was nowhere near ready to stop when my son comes into my office with a banana in his hand, asking me to make some food for him. My boy had voluntarily subjected himself to a sugar restricted diet because he was becoming a bit too sturdy. “Let me finish.” I say, and then add, “make good choices. You can do it! And can you bring me a banana please?” The sight of the banana in his hand made me hungry. Happily he complies.

A while later, my 10yo comes in and perches herself in my lap. “Mommy, are you working today?” She asks, and upon learning that I wasn’t, adds, “Then do you have time to play with us?”

“Sure, babe. Just let me finish my blog first, OK?” Her butt is getting heavy on my lap, so I give her a gentle push, and say, “now go get me some granola. I’m hungry!” It must have been around 9 o’clock. I’ve been up for almost 6 hours. I’m starving.

Happily she agrees. When she brings my bowl of granola and yogurt, she’d also put in some frozen blueberries to substitute for fresh raspberries, which we are out of. My son walks in with her, proffering a bowl of sliced apple. “Awww, you are so sweet and good to me. Thank you!” I say, and send them away to wait for me some more. They have each other. They are ok.

My 7yo bounces up the stairs a while later. “Mommy, can you come now? Come dance with us!”

“I’m not done yet. Soon. I’ll be there soon, ok?” I answer. My eyes glued to the screen, my next sentence for the blog forming in my brain. She leaves. Is it 10am now?

Both of my daughters show up next when I fail to report to the dance station. “Mommy, we’ve been waiting a long time. Can’t you come and dance with us now?”

I look up and oh gosh, it is 11:15am. I must get up from my desk, but only because we need to leave for our skating lesson. “Ok, let’s get ready to go, but I don’t have time to dance with you now. We will do it after we come back.” I promise again.

When we get back from skating lesson, both my daughters have play dates about to start in 15 minutes, but they don’t forget the dance. “Can we do it now?” They ask eagerly.

“No, we don’t have time now. We will do it later, don’t worry about it!” I answer as I furiously push the vacuum cleaner. Our dogs are heavy shedders.

“Mommy! You said a long time ago that you were gonna dance with us, and you still haven’t!” My 10yo is mad now. She stomps her feet, lips pursed, arms crossed in front of her chest.

“Yes I know, but we ran out of time. You have play dates now! We will do it later, I promise!” I cajole, and walk away with my vacuum cleaner in pursuit of more dog hair.

At 6pm the play dates end. I make dinner and we eat. At 7:30pm, my kids are ready for me to dance with them, so I finally do. A promise is a promise.

But is it? Did I do right by my kids if I made them wait from 9 o’clock in the morning till 7:30 at night? During the day when I drove up our driveway on the way back from skating lesson and saw the drab of the winter woods, I started counting the days till spring, and then caught myself. How many more times am I going to witness this drab? This drab that is a necessary part of the seasons, where things get to rest from all the birthing and growing and fruiting, such a serene and peaceful season disguised as drab. Even this is going to leave me in, well, how many years???

Time flies. I’d just written a blog about that. Apparently I wrote it in words but didn’t listen to my own advice.

The moment I make myself unavailable to my kids, who are the most authentic presences in my life, that’s the moment I cut myself off from my own authenticity. I expect them to understand: look, this is mommy’s blog, and it is important that I write it every day, and that you don’t disturb me when I’m writing it, that there is very little I can do for you during this sacred time. Do they have such expectations of me? “You are still mommy even when you are writing your sacred blog. We still have needs and questions that only you can help with and answer. Do you want us to put our spring on hold for your summer and fall?”

But being the authentic beings that they are, my kids leave me alone. They adapt. They make do. They make merry and laugh loudly. They argue and cry unabashedly. They each forge a path distinctly their own, and they invite me to come along and see the sights if I’m available.

One day, if I say no and wait one too many times, they will leave me behind as well.

Yesterday, while I took care of my clients, my kids were left alone again on their day off. During my session with the last client, we hear a knock on my studio door. Looking up, I see my son waving his hand at me. I walk over, and learn that my daughter had hurt herself, so I excuse myself from my client and rush back to the house. I find my daughter on the floor, hugging our dog tight, sobbing. Her left foot is wrapped up in a paper towel.

I examine her foot and ask her what happened. She walked into the corner of the island and stubbed her little toe, which is bleeding. I spray her toe with antiseptic, apply Neosporin, band-aid the toe, and tell her to rest it. By this time my two other kids are staring at the iPad screen, no longer paying attention to my 10yo’s cries, so I yell at them to take care of their sister. They call back the dog and make her lie down with my 10yo again. Labeling the situation as contained, I go back to my client to finish the session.

Do I blame myself for my 10yo’s injury? Should I? My mindlessness over the last few days is infecting and affecting my children, and the signs are everywhere. We met a couple and their kids for dinner last night, and as the adults were ensconced in a cozy booth, the 5 kids were situated next to us but at a separate table. My 10yo came over to me several times to complain about her toe, but I offered her no solution to her pain. I kept an eye on the contents of my boy’s plates, as we were in their favorite buffet restaurant again, but I think I missed at least half of what he put in his stomach, because he confessed on our drive back that he couldn’t control himself and ate too much. I have no idea what my 7yo had or what she did for the hour and half that we were there.

A more mindful me would have switched my seat with my husband so I was closer to my kids. That me would have at least let my 10yo sit on my lap and rub her back to let her know I feel her pain and want to help. That me would have insisted on going with my son to pick out his food and offer him advice on food choices. That me would have checked in with the littlest one to make sure that she knows I am available to her if she needs me.

I know that children are resilient. Today they will give me many more opportunities to live and grow with them. It is always up to me whether I take them up on their generous offers. I suspect that the more I say yes to them, the more invitations I will receive. Chances to seize the now. Chances to offer myself 100%. My authenticity rests in my ability to say yes to the human beings I brought into this world, who are here to remind me constantly and tirelessly that the time is now.

Wait: For what?

When my fingers silently and ominously counted to 3, the definitive number upon which all rebellion must cease, my 7yo had not yet finished what she wanted to say, and she didn’t stop. She didn’t wait: she had to get it all out right then and there. I was helpless in my admiration for her authenticity and courage. My 1, 2, 3 did not work with her dissatisfaction at the current situation. It’s not my way or the highway; it is the right way and the only way.

On the second day of his diet my son walked into my room and said, “Mommy, even though I’ve been on this diet for only a day, I already noticed a big change. I feel better, I have more energy, and I was able to sleep in! I’m so happy!” How much more observant can he be?

My 10yo’s stubbed toe, along with the forecasted rain, is taking us out of our now routine weekly skiing trip. The pain is real, and so are their wishes to spend time with us and desires to be happy right now. So here is my day of redemption to tend to the fire that’s going out. When will I learn to never take anything for granted, least of all those who think of my company, affection, and attention to be the highest form of reward? When will I not feel like a fake when they tell me that I am the best mommy in the whole wide world?

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