Updated: Jul 30, 2021
I had the most kind messages celebrating our first year of journaling our overseas adventures, but even more than that, for every kind message there was another...
"Wow, Avah has really grown up." It's undeniable.
It happened slowly really. It all began when I pulled up one evening and wondered what woman was playing with my kids in the front yard. Imagine my surprise when I realized... It was Avah. When I was out shopping at the mall, and overheard a young group of boys discussing a girl. It was Avah. Then that occasion when I had searched high and low for my tweezers that had mysteriously vanished. It was Avah, (and her immaculate eye brows.) Suddenly my life is like showing up for a blind date and realizing you KNOW that person. Avah has blind sided us all, and it has left me both terrified, and stumped.
This is the crazy thing about parenthood, the thing they don't tell you: just when you feel really confident in your parenting prowess, and you are comfortable with the parenthood territory...BOOM! All that experience seems like literal child's play, like a kindergartener has taken a perfectly put together puzzle and lobbed it in the air. This puzzle is no longer flat, but 3-D and backwards. Long gone are the days of worrying about just keeping your baby safe from the mean kid at play group, or chasing them down when they have escaped your home without a diaper, no, you have now officially arrived in unknown territory: tween town. Population: 2 clueless parents.
I want to take a minute and just say, I have been told by seasoned parents before, "little kids, little problems, big kids, bigger problems", and at the time I wanted to retort... "Do you know how tired I am? I do not have the brain power to compute that right now. Hold this car seat and kid while I try to find my keys in my fifty pound diaper bag." You know what I am saying. When you are physically tired from parenting, your mental capacity is zip. Your brain just switches to survival mode and you don't have the time to really make a series of intentional decisions, or decipher kind-hearted pearls of wisdom. You are just cycling between wake time when you get nothing done, to bed time when you are trying to get everything done. And little by little, as they gain more independence you start to feel like yourself again,THEN, they flip the script. That's where I am. Right now, I'm rested, my kids don't physically need me for as much, but suddenly, they need me for all the hard stuff. The "How to be a good Human" stuff, and where my brain lived on auto pilot, it is suddenly needing to fire on all cylinders, all the time. What makes it harder, I don't have the guidance of my family being close to help me navigate, and so, I'm royally screwing up my oldest. Don't believe me? Think I'm being too hard on myself? Just wait.
Not long ago, after dinner one night, I am walking around doing my usual tidying. We have sent the kids up for baths and we are getting set up for our time together after they are in bed. (Drinks and Netflix- the best way to end a day.) I go upstairs to put away a jacket and I open the door on Avah getting out of the shower. I look up and literally gasp. My hands stop functioning and I drop said jacket to the floor. Oh my God. Avah is staring at me like I'm "the ghost-of-sane-momma's-past". Overnight, and I swear it was overnight, she looks like a woman. She asks sweetly, "Mom, are you okay?" Deadpan I say, "No." She sweetly replies, "Mom, whats wrong? Did something happen? Do you need a hug?" "Yes." Yes. I need a hug from my own daughter that is the very source of why I need a hug. We stand there. Me gripping on to her and thinking about all the times she felt little in my arms. My grip tightens, and I realize I am physically trying to hold onto her. God, I need her to slow down. There we are: Avah wrapped in a towel, and me holding the tv remote. We just hold onto each other in a steamy little bathroom. I start to cry a little as I clutch on to her. "Mom, it's going to be okay. Whatever is wrong, it's going to be okay." I pull back and look at her, big blue eyes just like the day they handed her to me. She really is growing up right before my very eyes. I blinked, and I'm here.
That next weekend, I make plans to take her shopping. I disguise it by saying she needs new shoes, but in reality my main goal is to tell her she has to start wearing more undergarments. I've been thinking about the many ways I am going to set this up. I realize this is the first step in a lot of "firsts"coming her way: her first zit, her first crush, her first taste of real independence. "Firsts" sounded so much more fun when I was doing it. As we drive to the mall, I go in for the kill. I feel ready. I got this. I am going to play more of the "cool friend" in this moment. Here I go. "Avah, I think it's time you start wearing more undergarments." She replies, "What does that mean?" I don't want to say it, but I'm going to have to say it. I bluntly say, "Avah, you need to start wearing a training bra." She sighs, and pauses for a bit. "Mom, what am I training them for?" My nerves cause me to laugh out loud, and then we are both laughing out loud. "Baby, that is the age old question. I think that's just what they have always called them." In my head I'm thinking: Honey, you're going to have a training bra, a real bra and a nursing bra. Women's boobs are practically Olympic athletes in training. Prepare to be amazed at what those puppies can do. But I don't want to scare her, so I say, "I think it's to train YOU to wear it" This also sounds funny as I say it because I immediately picture women burning their bras in protest and I suddenly identify with that group in this moment. Geeze, I need to focus. "Avah, you just, you just need it. Okay? It's time." So far... Im not the cool friend, I'm the schizophrenic saleslady.
We arrive at the mall and it's a sea of masks, and lines, and people, so excited to be out and about post pandemic. I take her to a store I know will have just what we are looking for. After we shop around for a few items, I nonchalantly make my way over to the wall of braziers. It looks like an art installation of white straps, tiny triangles and little silk roses. I feel a bit nostalgic as I take one down. I remember this. I remember this well. Due to my serious nerves, I had forgotten that I had been excited when MY mother told me it was time. In fact, I suddenly remember how Mona had taken a totally different approach with me. In 5th grade, I had gone to school wearing what I thought was an appropriate white t-shirt, but my mother was horrified when she arrived home and saw me in it. "Baileigh Kathryn, you cannot be wearing things like that or the boys will think you're fast. Just look at your ta-tas! I will not be the mother of the fast girl." She grabbed her purse off the counter and took me straight to JC Penny. That was that. That's Mona for you.
I turned around just in time to find Avah standing there looking sheepish. Okay. Now it's my time to shine. "Baby, we need to find out what your size is around your chest. Let's grab a couple and head to the changing room." I take 4 or 5 down and begin searching for a dressing room. I find one, and discover, it is CLOSED. Due to the pandemic, no dressing rooms allowed. They also apparently don't do refunds on underwear. This is a bit of wrench. I am going to have to get creative. We walk back over to the bra section and I start looking around like I'm casing the joint. "Avah, just let me see which one of these is going to fit around you. They are all basically the same size but the fit around your ribs is what is important." "Mom! you want me to try it on in front of everyone?" Me, "Its okay honey, you don't need to take your shirt off, just let me see what fits around you, no one is looking!" She starts to nervously laugh as I start to take the bra off the baby hanger. I say,"Here, I'll pretend I'm hugging you and no one will know." Avah bites back, "Mom! You cannot be serious!" Through gritted teeth I say, "Avah, just hug me." She wines,"Mom, this is SO embarrassing." I begin to go in for a hug with the bra strategically situated so I can determine a fit. She bolts. THE GIRL BOLTS, and I am now dipping and diving through clothes racks to get to her. "Avah! Would you hold still, you are making this a thing, it doesn't have to be a thing." She turns back and puts her hands up like this is a stick up, and I have asked her to come away from the robbery with her hands where I can see them. If you can picture it, I am still wearing a face mask so I really do look like a bandit. The bra bandit, like the McDonald's Hamburgular but with a better outfit. "Avah, just hug me for two seconds." She gives in because she really has no other option but to do it, or scream for help. And no one would believer her anyway. I go into hug her and try to quickly synch up the clasp. It's too small. I say, "Honey this one is too small, let me try this one." I go into hug her a second time and she is slowly becoming a resistant limp noodle, looking away in defiance. Nope, this one is two big. I beg her, "let me try just one more." She rolls her eyes and continuously pans the room to see who is onto us. I go in for what i hope is a final hug and I can tell this is the one. Reading this back, I realize that this is a tale as old as time, you know, Goldilocks and the THREE BRAS. I finally fasten the clasp and stand back to see my handy work. The tension of the bra makes it pop up to look like it's in place. There is Avah, beet red face, standing in this store with a bra outside her t-shirt. Exasperated she yells, "Mom! Oh my gosh just pick one! They are trained! I'm trained! I'll wear it!" I realize she thinks this was part of the training bra experience. I went into this thinking I would at least do better than Mona, ends up, I'm just a different brand of crazy. I reach back to take it off and grab a handful in that size. I turn to look at her and she starts to cover her face and laugh. "Avah, I'm sorry honey, they don't make a parenting book on how to do this and these are weird times so you will just have to forgive me." Avah is slowly shaking her head back in forth like she is coming to from a bad dream...she wont be able to wake from this one. "Mom, I cannot wait to tell Dad about this, I don't even think he will believe me." (Thats my hope.)
Zac totally believed her. Mostly because he knows me, and knows that I can easily normalize crazy behavior, especially when I am on a mission... and that mission is my kids. We all laughed about it, and I later overheard Avah recounting the story to her buddies. I am grateful that the parents of those children know me, and so they will not judge my journey through Tween Town for they will be here soon enough.
Since becoming an official bra bandit, everyday, we are noticing the evolution of our first born. Some days, she is just our silly kid... other days, she will begin to cry for no reason at all, and when I ask her what is wrong she will dramatically say, "Mom, I don't know! I just have all these FEELINGS!" I mostly catch it when we venture out in public. Suddenly my usual "Chatty Cathy", will begin to shrink and cradle herself when she notices a group of kids a little older than her. I get it. I remember it. You have one foot in childhood, and one foot ready to take you somewhere with the cool kids. Time is ticking away... soon, I'll be begging her to be with us.
So, why do I share this? As it again, has zero to do with travel? First, because I hope that being honest about my parenting insecurities will encourage other parents to know that they are not alone. There is no perfect parent. Second, I want you to know, whether you have kids, are thinking of having kids, or are currently reading this at 2am while you are breast feeding a kid... you'll blink and you'll be here. Well, maybe not accosting your child in a department store, but you follow. Try your best not to wish away the hard days, because they will become a different kind of hard, and then, the hard part is letting them grow up. Last, I hope one day, Avah will read this and know, that I tried. I really really tried. Out of love, and over fear, through all my past junk, I tried to love her best way I knew how. It's the great circle of parenthood. For all the things I could still be mad at my own mother for, I know for certain, she tried. I think as parents, above everything else, thats what we hope they know.
Avah, give me grace.
Well, I will wipe my eyes, jump off, and continue packing for our road trip through Scotland. I am aware that I don't have too many more summers where Avah is excited to just be with us, and so I am going to sMOTHER her on this trip. Stay tuned, what could wrong with all of us trying to get a motorhome on tiny roads in the highlands?
Love from London,