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The first 6 weeks of motherhood I found I could do little but stare at my baby. I had labored for 2 ½ days, desperately falling asleep between contractions at the end. I remember the brightness of the noonday sun on my forehead and thinking, when did it become so boldly day? That’s when my doctor said, “OK, Rebecca, it’s time to push.”

Were there actually stirrups in that room? I remember emerging from my sleepy mythical séance, knees up and physician placed to catch, when, in terror I cried out, “But I’m not ready to be a mother!” and everyone in the room burst out laughing at the absurdity of the situation.

Despite my fears, I have found my way. It began with staring.

Although I continued to teach 6 fitness classes a week until the month before I delivered, I lost a lot of blood when I gave birth and I paused half way up a set of stairs to catch my breath. Motherhood was to be a new way of life; slower to be sure. I was so exhausted from constant night waking that I could do little else but stare at my new baby. I have yet to find a novel, movie, or conversation captivate me like my newborn-baby-eyes those first six weeks.

This wears off.

The same children who inspired drop dead fascination from me also inspired my greatest frustrations. I was reduced to tears and locked myself in the bathroom when my 2 year old fought me about putting on her shoes, “No! Me do!” she said.

I remember the heat that filled my fingertips. Anger exploding in my hands that were trying to help her hurry. We spent the morning reading her stories and playing stack the colorful shapes. I’d moved in slow motion all morning and now it was her turn to tune into my schedule. Except that she didn’t. She was looking at her inner clock that read, time to learn how to put on my own shoes.

The doctor’s office didn’t run on toddler time and they had this crazy expectation I would arrive within five minutes of the timeslot I requested. My skin got hotter and hotter until I felt myself beginning to shake and wanting to shake her. “It’s my turn!!” I wanted to stomp my feet. I wanted to scream.

Instead, I locked myself in the bathroom.

I love juxtapositions because they are where the real juice of life happens, but they are rarely fun while actually bathing in them. Years ago I would not have been able to articulate the lesson I was trying to offer my daughter: respect your own internal rhythms AND care for other’s needs. I was too busy splashing water on my face. But I know I faced a similar tug-of-war 80,000 times as I parented over the years.

Deep joy and life-long contentment comes from giving to the world of your unique talents. Not from getting to do what you want every minute of every day.

In the past year my daughter occasionally complained about planning the Philosophy Extravaganza at her school. Not everyone returns email in a timely fashion (I’m guilty of that, I thought). What happens when funding runs out? But she glowed as she told me about gathering speakers and solving food shortages the day of the conference. She was in her element, giving back.

My son recently went to Costa Rica for spring break where he met a family in dire need of his digging and building so their house didn’t flood every season. “Mom, this man was so busy helping other people in his community, he hardly noticed his house was a disaster.” I got more texts from Costa Rica the day of the service project than I did about zip lining or surfing.

It is worth it for me to respectfully battle with shoes if I know, someday, they will reach beyond their own needs to gaze into the life of another. Parenting is worth the fight.

It also is a labor that leaves me spent.

I need a word that combines exhaustion and exhilaration. Exhausteration. This is my parenting journey. I’ve poured out my heart for over two decades having the age-equivalent shoe battles with my children, trying to let them be independent and find their way, while simultaneously asking them to accept the world’s parameters of time, space and, most importantly, other people’s needs, into the equation. Their life long happiness depends upon it.

Now I’m circling back. All I can do is stare at the photo of the two of them as graduation season arrives at our front door (she from college, he from high school). There have been years of battles, but I don’t see that. I see their cheeks and nose and I feel the unconditional hugging arms of their father alive in their skin. I see inviting smiles and sense that my vitality is grounded in their bones.

It is time to let go, just as 22 years ago, it was time to receive. I hear the graduation salutation to them, “Oh! The places you’ll go!” and I know I am not invited on this part of their journey. Where is the physician to whom I say, “But I’m not ready!” The room of people would only laugh, knowing it was too late to change my mind, as if I ever had any choice in the matter at all.

As I adjust, I’ll just keep staring.

Logan and Kaitlin graduation website

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graduation announcements help calm nerves of the season

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I like the feeling of folding a paper precisely in half and then half again. It’s a signal to my system that somewhere in life there are exact marking points. 4 corners come together and, Viola! My message is tucked neatly away to be unfolded in the hands of a dear friend. Graduation rituals are […]

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My step-mother was a bra-burner and a banana bread maker. For years I wanted her to choose. Now I’m eternally grateful that she did not. If I take a lasagna to a sick friend or a new mother it is because my step-mother taught me to do so. But she never let artful domesticity keep […]

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My friend puts her lips to the egg –an intimate gesture – and I can tell by the way her feet get wobbly underneath her that her head is about to explode. Perhaps ¼ teaspoon of egg white has appeared at the bottom of her egg and we both burst out laughing. “You’ve got to […]

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I’ve been taking nearly 10,000 steps a day for 30 years. At age 18 I began taking a walk every day. It was for my mental health. I preferred the outdoors to a lifetime dose of anti-depressant. Occasionally I miss a day. But my average is better than 6/7 days, probably more like 13/14. In […]

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Are you terrified of rocks falling on top of you and burying you alive? Not a very realistic fear unless you drive a canyon full of rocks each time you need a gallon of milk. Recently two of my friends arrived at this rockslide just as the dust was settling. It not only made the […]

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I found where I belong by simply writing about my family for the past 4 weeks. This is a small miracle to me. Such an easy cure, such an elusive problem. Several decades ago I went to hear Tony Robbins speak and he described 4 categories of people. I don’t remember the names of the […]

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My dog, Ode Yedder, is sitting beside me, where I frequently can find her. She follows me down the hallway when I’m going to fetch the laundry to take it to the other side of the house. Is it because she wonders if I’m getting ready for a walk? Or does she simply long for […]

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this day I daily wed

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I took off my wedding ring this week. I put it in the precious box my daughter made for me. Then I began to listen carefully for the voice of my own longing. I realized I was missing that voice when I felt envious of my best friend’s tires. We went to Steamboat together and, […]

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