Who knew that however many children you have, that you have to become a different mother for each one of those children? My oldest, Queen Llama, is 13 and is probably the chillest person I know. So far, she’s definitely the easiest child ever, not causing problems, does her school work without me having to supervise, extremely helpful with her brothers. Honestly, if I could just get her to cook, she wouldn’t need me at all, other than to bounce some ideas off of every now and then. My youngest, RC is 3 and still needs me quite a bit. He’s the classic “baby’ of the family and doted on by all. He has Down Syndrome, so we spend a lot of time working with him on new skills, and everyone is vested in his progress and happiness. My middle child and oldest son, Captain Master-Builder (Captain for short) is 9 and a character. He is basically his father reincarnated. I say that he has an engineer’s mind- Legos, Science, History and anything that explodes is his jam.
Let’s just say.. everything that IS Captain’s jam, is nowhere near my jam list. This presents a problem. An even bigger one when your spouse is in the Army and gone for huge chunks of time.
So what do you do when you’ve birthed a child that you have absolutely nothing in common with? Add in that he’s the middle child- the one that historically gets the least amount of attention, and most days I’m scrambling to make sure that he knows that his Mama would move the Earth for him, even though it may not seem like it.
Recently, RC started Pre-K. All 3 children go to different schools. RC’s school starts at 7:30, Queen Llama starts at 8 and Captain starts at 9, and I drop off & pick up all 3. That means there is about an hour of time that we’ve had to fill each morning, because none of them attend a neighborhood school (Reid is in a public Pre-K and the older 2 are in private schools). This little waiting hour has become Captain and Mama time.
Even though we don’t live close to their schools, you know what does live close? Target. I consider it a bit like a vacation home, now. Captain and I drop off RC and Queen Llama in the mornings and we kind of give each other this look that there is this secret that no one knows but us. And it is. We never tell Queen Llama that almost every day we go for a hot chocolate (it’s still cool in the mornings), or a donut at Superior Bakery. And the conversations? It’s been a joy getting to have uninterrupted time with the Captain’s thoughts and discovering what he needs from me, as his mother.
I spend a lot of time worrying about Queen Llama and the issues that she will face being a girl/woman in this world. I put a lot of energy into keeping her a confident, focused and proud young lady, who won’t make the mistakes her mother made. When I’m not worrying about her, I worry about the issues that RC faces with his developmental delays and helping him become an independent, kind and contributing member of the world. Both very natural things to worry about, that any mother of a daughter, and mother of a child with special needs wrestles with daily.
I don’t worry much about Captain. Other than the obvious- him being an African American boy being raised in America and wanting him to be a productive member of society. He has a lot going for him …. great examples of strong men with a devoted father and grandfathers, a good head on his shoulders, super intelligent. But as we were finishing our hot chocolate the other day, I was startled to learn that my feelings of not needing to worry, may come off as being uninterested to Captain. Just because he’s a typically developing boy, and seems to be the well adjusted child, doesn’t mean he’s automatically confident in his skills and abilities.
Me: So, what do you want to be when you grow up? ( I knew the answer, but wanted to see if it had changed).
Captain: I want to be in the military, like Dad.
Me: Ah, which branch?
Captain: Air Force, like you were Mom.
Me: Oh yeah! So what do you want to do in the Air Force
Captain: I’m not sure yet. I just know that I won’t be able to fly planes.
Me: Why not?!
Captain: Because I’ll probably mess something up, make a mistake. It’s too risky.
By the time I took him to school, Captain was confident that he DID want to be a pilot, and that he’d learn to be the best pilot ever. All he needed to know was that he was capable and had my support.
But, during that conversation, my heart was broken. Just a few weeks ago, I was chatting with a little girl who told me she wanted to be a doctor. As soon as she answered me, she added that her Mom told her that she should try to be something else, because she’d probably make a mistake. I spent quite a bit of time with her, talking to her about going to college and how getting an education was the key to being able to do anything she wanted, including be a doctor. Like my son, I shared with her that if she stayed in school, that she could learn to be a doctor. And while I was having this conversation with her, I was judging and appalled at her mother. Who in the world would say something like that to their child?
This conversation with Captain showed me that I’m not very different than that mother that I judged. True, I’d never told Captain that he would make mistakes, that he’d never be a good pilot. But, every time he made a mistake and I yelled at him, or every time I rolled my eyes when he was talking, cut him off from his (very, very) long stories, every time that I didn’t even pretend to take an interest in what he was saying to me… I chip away at his self confidence, and insert doubt.
It reminded me of a time 3 years ago, when he wanted to show me how he built a very elaborate Power Ranger that he got for Christmas. As he was showing me, he told me that he appreciated me taking the time to listen to what meant a lot to him. I realized that I have stopped doing that… taking the time to listen. I could probably give you many excuses why I’d stopped listening as much, all very valid to me. But I won’t make excuses, because they don’t matter. Not as much as Captain matters.
It’s no easy task to be the type of mother that my kids need, because they all need me in very different ways. I’m sure that’s true for any mother of multiple children. But having this new time to experience life through Captain’s eyes. To listen to him, learn about and from him and to create our own little secret rituals has helped me appreciate him in a different way. No, I’m still not interested in Transformers, or Star Wars or how engines work. But I am interested in Captain knowing that his mother believes in him. And if that means slugging through a museum, I’ll do it.
Every day, when I drop him off, we have a goodbye competition. The winner is the person who said goodbye the most different ways before the van’s door closes shut. Then, he stops two or three times to wave to me as he walks in the school. For the last week, those stops have gotten more frequent, the waves more enthusiastic and the smile a million times brighter.
He may not get all of my attention, all of the time… or even most of the time. But for our relationship, that hour is the most important part of our day.
If you have more than one child, how do you show each one of them specific attention? Do you take them out on dates? Fun little bonding rituals? I’m excited to hear how you make sure you experience each one of your kids individually.