Choosing to Transform

Choosing to transform. That is what life is all about! Right, Paige?

When Jarrod started his taekwondo journey several years ago, I was a very naive martial arts mom. I had no idea. I imagined that like anything else, it was one lesson a week and I even thought to myself, “OK. He’ll get his black belt in a couple of years and then we’ll move on to something else.”

Insert picture of martial arts instructors rolling on the floor, laughing out loud.

What I didn’t understand then was that gaining a black belt is only the beginning of one’s martial arts training, not the end. The black belt signifies that that person is finally ready to become a true student of the art, that they have put in the hard work necessary to truly immerse themselves in the finer techniques. It really is a three-dimensional art form. The muscle memory required and the control necessary to perform at a peak level is amazing. And you don’t get there until you earn your first black belt.

Jarrod receiving his second degree, level 4 black belt from Senior Master Bowen, 7th degree black belt.

And I know this because I have now started my own taekwondo journey.

I have not only watched Jarrod for many years now and how he has transformed from an awkward little kid to a controlled martial artist, I have watched other children, teens, adults, and their instructors work toward higher and more difficult goals. And to see their kicks get more precise, their punches more controlled, is incredible. Jarrod is now a second degree, level four black belt and he shows no signs of stopping or slowing down. In fact, he has his eyes on the prize–a high-level black belt and his own taekwondo studio just like his instructor, Ms. Bowen.

Amelia receiving her level 2 green belt from Ms. Bailey, 5th degree black belt.

Meanwhile, Amelia has begun her own martial arts journey. She, too, has watched her brother and although she is a much different martial artist, she is determined to make her own mark in the sport. I watch her make the same mistakes Jarrod made at this early point in his classes and I see her consciously correct herself, working to perfect the movements that will make her a very special martial artist. I love watching Amelia and Jarrod work together, Jarrod giving Amelia pointers and Amelia practicing her form or her one-steps. It warms my heart to see them working together, not against each other as so many siblings do.

As my children took up and perfected this sport, I began exercising in earnest. See, I’m 47 years old now and I can feel my body slowing down, my metabolism working against me, and the aches and pains increasing. It’s frustrating, but I realize that I need to work harder AND smarter to keep myself in shape. Ms. Bowen and Ms. Bailey started a fitness boot camp at the beginning of the school year and even though I found myself most Monday and Wednesday mornings wanting to puke, I could feel my stamina improving. I began running again. Overall, everything is going swimmingly.

My first class was full of black belts and… little old me. Thankfully, they were gentle and encouraging!

Paige is not only a fellow taekwondo mom, she’s also a martial artist herself. She is a student of Ms. Bowen and Ms. Bailey and just received her first degree, level 1 black belt. The day she received her belt, she and Ms. Bailey both nodded toward me in the crowd and after many, many months of waffling, wondering, and stewing, I knew that they had just given me the signs I needed. I took the plunge the next day and started my own martial arts journey.

Many people talk about their 50th birthday in terms of purchases or trips. “I’m saving up for a Corvette!” or “I’m going to go to Bali!” Rather than buying a sports car or going to the end of the Earth, I’ve decided instead to prepare for my 50th a few years early. I want to welcome in my 50th birthday with a black belt around my waist and a new sense of self-respect. I want to face down my 50th by showing my kids that you can choose to transform yourself at any age, at any time, that you don’t have to be young to try something new or different, and that age is just a number and not a state of mind.

I want to prove to myself that through the aches and pains, I can still round kick the crap out of a punching bag.

And so, it is with great personal pride that I announce Bowen’s Tiger Rock’s newest white belt… ME! As Ms. Bowen is fond of saying, “A black belt is just a white belt who never gave up!” Well, this is one white belt who isn’t going to give up, Ms. Bowen! Let’s do this!

I had the honor of receiving my white belt from Ms. Hughes, 4th degree black belt.

The Blink of an Eye

img_9200I remember lying in my hospital bed, a mother for just seven short hours. My twin babies were in the NICU and I was full of anxiety. I couldn’t sleep, I wanted to see them but wasn’t allowed because of the danger of seizures, I was worried I wouldn’t know how to breastfeed them, and my blood pressure was so high that I was mainlining magnesium sulfate through an IV pump I had affectionately named “George.” The doctor had ordered a “nightcap” for my IV (read: something to finally knock out the psycho mother in room 15) and I was just drifting off to sleep as my breastfeeding consultant walked in the room.

See, I was absolutely freaked that the twins wouldn’t get enough breastmilk. If I gave them a bottle, then I would know how much they drank. The ounces would be clearly marked on the side and with a little simple subtraction, I could know how much they were eating. Breasts, unfortunately, don’t come with those ounce marks. Plus, writing down the amount of poop and pee they created each day just seemed a bit too much like flying by the seat of my pants which, as we all know, I DO NOT DO.

So, there she was, this tired “Breast Milk is Best” advocate who was there to calm me down and give me advice.

In the middle of her instructions, her phone rang. It was her newly-minted 13-year-old daughter who was asking if she could have more minutes on her phone. You see, September 16th was her birthday, too. And she had just received a shiny, new cell phone for that 13th birthday. But, she had used all the monthly minutes to set it up and call all her friends to say, “HEY! CHECK IT OUT! I HAVE A NEW PHONE!”

4961_85634273231_4642627_nEven through my drug-addled, anxiety-ridden, sleepy brain, I could hear the mom’s/breastfeeding nurse’s voice become more terse and frustrated as the conversation went on.

“No. You cannot have more minutes.”

“You’ll get more minutes on October 1st. Those are the rules.”

“It’s not my fault you used up all of September’s minutes in just a matter of hours.”

“You should have paid attention to what you’re doing.”

“I know it’s your birthday, but deal with it.”

When she finally hung up, she apologized, explained what had happened, and as she spoke, gestured to me and the pictures of my new babies, and said, “This? Hon? This is easy. All you have to do is feed them, change their diapers, and love them. When they get to be 13? That’s the hard part. Trust me.”

Of course, I didn’t believe her. I was convinced that trying to guesstimate breastfeeding quantities was going to be the hardest thing I had EVER done in my ENTIRE life. (Postpartum anxiety is a total bitch, yo.)

Eleven years later, and here we are on the cusp of that cell phone moment. There are many days when I can see the beginnings of the teen years with mood swings and attitude. It’s no fun being the mom who takes away the iPad and tells them “NO!” while their tears fall as if it’s the end of the world. I can tell you that even though I know I’m doing the right thing, I still feel like the most awful mom in the world.

Somewhere out there is a 24-year-old woman, celebrating her birthday. She most likely pays for her own phone, and she may have her own children. I doubt she recalls that conversation with her mother, but I remember it as if it were only yesterday. I can remember rolling my eyes and thinking, “The teen years are SO FAR AWAY!”

And yet, they aren’t. They’re staring me in the face. I sometimes wish I could go back to the easy days of baby giggles, diapers, and fuzzy breastmilk consumption math, because she was right, those days were SO much more simple.

But, even though these days are no longer easy, they are certainly more interesting. I’m never bored. I see children who are forming ideas about the world, learning constantly, loving those around them, laughing freely, crying, arguing, questioning, and becoming really cool people. They make me feel more alive and more tired, all at the same time. I know the next eleven years will pass as quickly as these have and before I know it, I’ll have adults in place of the babies I once knew.

And I’ll long for these difficult days of the pre-teen years.

Happy 11th birthday, Amelia and Heath! I love you so very much!

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Sick and Twisted

"Looks like a Bataan death march." -Brad Finn

“Looks like a Bataan death march.” -Brad Finn

No one gives you instructions on how to be a mother when you’re sick. Oh, sure. You receive tons of advice about feeding them and changing their diapers. Everyone scrambles to help you snap up those onsies and cuddle the cute, wittle, sweet, BABEHS! You give birth and there’s a multitude of opinions about sleepless nights, growth spurts, and the sometimes endless crying. “Sleep when they sleep!” they all chant to you. And then those sages of advice eventually went home and I was left with one twin who slept like the dead and another who was so colicky that sleep was only something I read about in magazines. And when the third one came along? Sleep became an extremely rare commodity. They all had competing schedules and I, somehow, kept three children and myself alive and fed for six months with just a few hours of sleep each night.

In retrospect, that’s nothing. What’s really hard is being a mom while you’re sick. Nobody tells you how difficult that is. It’s like this huge secret, a motherhood initiation. When I finally experienced it for the first time, I imagined all the other mothers giggling and snorting behind my back, whispering, “IT’S HAPPENING! Let’s watch the carnage and see if she makes it!” As I imagined them pulling up their chairs and digging into buckets of buttered popcorn, I bitterly dove head-first into my first-ever “sick with kids” episode.

The twins were three months old and still latching on to me at all hours of the day and night. Not only was I exhausted, but my throat started feeling scratchy, and then I couldn’t talk, and then I was using up every tissue within a six-mile radius of the house, and then I was hacking up both lungs.

There’s nothing more miserable than breastfeeding twins while surviving a nasty upper-respiratory something-or-other. And the worst part? I was on my own. Tyler had to work and none of the grandparents wanted to catch what I had. So, there I sat, at home, alone, and wondering why in the world I decided to have kids and wanting nothing more than for my mommy to tuck me into bed and bring me warm soup and Sunkist.

The above picture was taken last Wednesday, during the kids’ “Walk To School Day.” It was an official event, full of county deputies directing traffic and hordes of kids and their parents, converging (on foot) onto the school. Heck, the Chick-fil-A cow was even there! (Do we Southerners know how to do up an event, or what?) The kids had been looking forward to this morning for a week. And I started experiencing my tell-tale scratchy throat and low-grade fever the night before. When I woke up the next morning, I looked and felt like death warmed-over and knew I had nothing but misery ahead of me. That quote? Up there on the picture? Actually kind of apropos considering how awful I felt. It was 1.7 miles of speeding up, slowing down, stopping, chit-chat, and trying not to trip over those new-fangled rolling backpacks.

Yeah, I was miserable, but I was also surprisingly content. I had 45 uninterrupted minutes of my children’s time. We talked about school and friends and the cars passing us. We paused to smell late-blooming gardenias and observed a golden orb weaver spider on its web. I sipped my coffee, more for the soothing effect of the warm liquid than for any caffeine rush. And we made it. Tyler picked me up at the end and I collapsed into his car happy, yet thankful to the stars above that it was over.

In the nine years I’ve been a mother, there’s only been a handful of mornings I’ve woken up and said to Tyler, “I can’t do this. I’m too sick. You’re going to have to take over today.” No, being sick and being a parent is no fun. In the beginning, the kids don’t care. They will still expect meals and answers and activities and your undivided attention. I learned early on how to just lie on the floor as they played. They would treat me as a wall for them to climb and tumble over. I felt useless, but they would giggle and have the greatest of times. I would get up from time to time to feed them and change diapers, but I adapted. I realized that when I was sick, I was allowed to be less than myself. When the twins started first grade, I spent two bronchitis-filled weeks on the couch, with Jarrod, watching the London Olympics. And that was OK.

Now that my children are older, they are able to empathize and take care of themselves. When I say I don’t feel well, they back off, they let me have that rest, and they demand less of me. They are able to pick up the slack. All that stuff we’ve been teaching them? It’s finally paying off and it’s an amazing thing to see happen after so many years of dependence.

I decided, quite a long time ago, that if any of my children have children of their own, and they find themselves on the receiving end of a cold or the flu or some other nasty illness, I will be there for them. I will fix them soup and Sunkist and fluff their pillows, stroke their foreheads, and wish them rest and wellness.

And then I’ll tiptoe downstairs to my grandkids and take them out for ice cream, water gun battles, and Legos. Because I’m thinking that’s what all the cool, hip grandmothers will do sometime around 2030.