If there’s one profession that can fill you with pride and joy one minute and then make you feel like a total Jerk-Nugget the next, it’s motherhood. It’s okay though, because another moment is on its way in which you will feel righteous anger, over-tear-filled-whelming LERVE, or complete bafflement.
No emotion is off the table for parents. We’re very much like humans in that way. We just seem to rotate through emotions faster than our fellow non-procreating sapiens. Of all the many mental health issues we seem to go through after giving birth to babies, the most universal and longest-lasting appears to be Emotional Rollercoasterism, or ERC. The baby comes out and you strap in because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
But you’ll love it!
But you’ll totally hate it for a minute.
But then you’ll love it. You might even clap your hands and say, “Again, AGAIN,” before you remember that every ride includes just way too much fecal matter. But by then it’s too late. And you’re glad you forgot because you really really do want to do it again.
The story I share today is of the Jerk-Nugget variety, but it’s okay because it has a happy ending. The ending is happy because it comes with a realization. Realizations are my favorite.
One night my ten-year-old daughter was terrified. She couldn’t sleep. I climbed up the ladder into her bunk bed and rubbed her back to calm her.
“What’s the matter, Honey?” I asked.
“I’m so scared, Mom. I’m so scared. Every time I close my eyes I picture flying over the handlebars of my bike and I know I have to ride again, but I’m so, so scared.”
A couple of weeks earlier, she’d finally mastered bike riding, years after her younger brother, and with much begging and coercing from me and her dad. She just didn’t like riding a bike, never had.
The only reason she tried to ride in the first place was because I’d given her a big fat guilt trip.
“Do you wanna be the only middle schooler who can’t ride a bike? Won’t it be embarrassing if all your friends go for a ride and invite you and you have to tell them that you never learned this basic skill?”
She cried every time I put her on that bike, sometimes going boneless and just flopping over, but I kept pushing. To be fair, I was doing it out of love. I love biking and I love her and I know she’s capable of learning anything she puts her mind to.
But that trip a couple of weeks earlier, on her final ride, she’d made a tight turn and flown over the handlebars. Her face bounced on the cement, chipping her front teeth. She’d twisted her wrist and ankle and skinned her knee and face. And now she was terrified.
So I held her in my arms and thought about all the pressure I’d put on her, the guilt and shame I’d heaped into her little heart. Here she was terrified because I’d convinced her that she’d never be happy in life if she couldn’t ride a bike. What the what?!
Brain zap! She doesn’t ever need to ride a bike. A brief list of reasons I wanted her to ride:
1. So she could have fun. There are a ton of ways to have fun. If you hate doing something and your mother forces you to, what are the chances it will be a fun experience?
2. Everyone else is doing it. Ummmm…. Not a reason. For anything.
3. So her friends wouldn’t tease her. Do I want her to have friends who will tease her because there is a certain recreational activity that she doesn’t particularly care for?
4. So we can ride as a family. This one is semi-valid, although there are plenty of other activities we can do as a family if biking is something she is really, truly terrified of.
I thought for a second about how it would feel if Dan arbitrarily decided it was urgent that every member of our family learn how to skateboard so we could do it together. What if the kids picked it up immediately but I was forever falling and breaking all of my delicate parts? What if he kept pushing and pushing me to board. “You’re the only person who doesn’t know how. You just have to keep trying. You’re going to be so embarrassed if you don’t figure this out.” JERK. NUGGET.
Laylee shook in my arms and I told her she didn’t ever need to ride a bike. Staggering truth – she could have a totally successful life, even if she never learned.
But I love riding my bike. Could she really be happy if she didn’t master all the same skills as her mother? Yeah.
She could be more than happy. She could be brilliant.
It was a moment of re-realizing that I’m not raising an army of Mini-Mes. I’m raising people with their own likes, dislikes, talents and weaknesses. Hopefully, I’m raising people who make choices out of love and joy, not guilt and fear.
With each reassurance that life would go on with or without the bike and that I’d never pressure her to ride again, her heartbeat slowed and I felt her body relax. After a few sniffles, she found her way to sleep and I crept down the ladder a changed mom.
Confession. I hope she chooses to ride a bike someday. I think she could love it. And there will be opportunities here and there that she’ll miss out on if she never learns. But, I don’t want her to learn a hobby by force and I don’t want her to have nightmares about something that’s supposed to be fun.
As a parent, it’s such a hard balance between pushing my kids to succeed because I want them to be happy and just pushing them sheepishly because, well, baa, everyone rides a bike or jerkishly because they have to be little Kathryn clones. On this rollercoaster of motherhood, I’d like to err on the side of too much love and mercy. My kids do not need to ride bikes. Or scuba dive. Or crochet.
Playing Rook, on the other hand, is non-negotiable.