I didn’t have my first child until I was 29 years old.
That is normal for most of society, but not for Mormons. Compared to others, I was practically a grandma by the time I had my first. My SILS and sisters all had babies in their early 20s, some even in their teens. My mom’s first baby was at 18!
I could have had babies earlier. I was married at 21 for 3 years and then married again at 26. I didn’t have children with my first husband, despite many suggesting I should as a way to get him back on track. Luckily, I didn’t listen. I had seen way too many episodes of General Hospital and Days of Our Lives in my teenage years to know that children rarely fix a bad marriage or a person. The plan to use children as a manipulation always backfires. I was wise enough to know that I didn’t want to bring a child into a home that wasn’t happy. So I delayed.
And by the time I married Chad at age 26, I wasn’t even sure I wanted children. Gasp. I know. Every Mormon is supposed to want children, but I didn’t … necessarily.
The grueling decision to divorce at such a young age in Mormonland, forever freed me to think outside of the box. I had already pioneered new ground and had broken the Mormon mold. Now it was much easier to go against expectations and norms and neighbors opinions and do whatever was right for me. And after my divorce, I saw myself more as a girl with a PhD, living in a loft in New York City, changing the world, rather than being a mom. I told myself that “some birds aren’t meant to be caged.”
I almost knew too much about what it meant to raise a child so I wasn’t going to do it just because that is what you do when you get married or because I was a Mormon or because it would be fun. By this time, I was old enough to know that children were way more than hair bows, cute nurseries and play dates at the park.
But perhaps the deepest reason why I didn’t want kids is because I didn’t want to pass on my character flaws, my weaknesses or my deep pains. They had plagued me for 28 years — why would I want to pass them on to another human being? Why would I take the risk to inflict another person with so many physical and emotional struggles?
Fast forward a bit and somewhere along the line I was worn down with my love for Chad and some cute neices and nephews and that little covenant I made to mulitply and replenish the earth. I wanted to have children with Chad. I prayed hard that my children would inherit Chad’s genes: his legs, his attitude, his kindness, his likeability, his easiness and his unselfishness.
For the first years of parenthood, I didn’t notice much. We were so busy changing diapers, sweeping crumbs, and picking up toys. They were just babies and toddlers. But, now, as my children get older and their personalities start to develop and talents and character start to take shape. I see what I feared.
I see me.
And it is painful to know that I am a source of their struggles and flaws and weaknesses.
Like when Crew blurts out a comment that is extremely witty, but completely inappropriate and rude. I know he gets his quick, stinging, too honest tongue from me. Sure I have learned from my many mistakes over the years to hold in my first thoughts. Family dinner has become an exercise in self restraint with continual dialogue in my head, “Don’t say that, don’t say that. It is dang funny and would put them right in their place, but don’t say that.” Crew hasn’t learned this restraint yet and it causes pain to those around him.
Or when Croft just wants to eat sugar all day long. She believes every meal needs a dessert. Her love for sweets and disdain for vegetables comes from me.
Or when Locke has to have the blue bowl and the baby spoon and the 1st seat at the bar or a major tantrum will ensue — it is a stark reminder of my OCD tendacies – to drink oj out of a glass cup, to use a plastic fork when eating from metal and to have lotion on my hands before I touch paper. I am the reason he is so particular.
And then there is Elle… when she cries about friends to me, I don’t know what to tell her. I see her with many friends around her, but no one really close. She is on the periphery of many different circles and that was me. In high school, after I moved, I didn’t really fit in with the cool kids or the nerds or the geeks or the athletes. I walked around the edge and had plenty of friends, but no “tell you my deep secrets” kind of friends. I still keep every one at a slight distance. I don’t want her to have the same experience.
But as worried as I was to see my faults and weaknesses in my children, I have been just as surprised to see my strengths in them as well. I wasn’t counting on recognizing and appreciating my own talents more clearly as I have watched my children grow and develop.
Like when Crew intercepts the football in a game or when his teachers tell me they can’t wait to see what ‘font’ he is going to use on his school work. Or when he brings home a spelling sheet from school and it looks like this. (Remember he is a 7 year old boy.) That handwrititng ain’t from Chad.
Or when Elle breaks down a huge school project into manegable steps each night and is finished well before the deadline. Or when she shows me a binder she organized differently because the way her teacher wanted her to do something just didn’t make sense. And if she just moved these two folders over here and separated them out then she could keep better track of her work and save time. Her time management and organization skills come from me.
Or when Locke wipes up the table better than his siblings or is the last kid to stop weeding at the cemetary or digs all the rocks out of a friends dirt pile, I know that he is a hard worker because I am a hard worker.
Or when Croft gives me some perfectly logical explanation for why we should do things differently. I marvel at her thought and wisdom and logic at age 6. (And I fear for her teenage years.) Like when I was making a retro TV from a cardboard box for our Girls Camp Kick Off, and I asked my kids what I should do for knobs. Croft blurts out, “You could use those lids from the canning jars.” Genius. But genius because of me. She has my creativity.
(Those legs are paper cups!)
As these kids get older I know their strengths and weaknesses will manifest more. I will see me in them even more — for better or worse.
When I see my weaknesses in my children, my only hope is that I will be able to relate. I can help them through the pain and mistakes because I know what it feels like. I can teach them my strategies and coping mechanisms and life lessons learned and hopefully I can ease their burdens. I can help them because I’ve been there.
And when I see my strengths in my children, I can learn to love and appreciate myself even more. I can more clearly see my talents and I remember there is much good I passed on as well.
So while some of my children may have to deal with zits, depression, weight gain, or 10 pound babies and C-sections; someone else is also going to throw a mean spiral, rock Teacher Appreciation Week, write a thought provoking paper, make someone laugh and have an eye for beauty.
Maybe, for better or worse, it ain’t so bad to see me.