Last week, Sydney turned twelve.
This little girl… ❤️
The years are passing quicker now. Maybe because I finally wish they would slow down.
Parenting is feeling emotional lately.
I often tell people:
-Having a gaggle of toddlers is physically taxing in incredible ways.
-Having a gaggle of pre-teen/teenagers is emotionally taxing in far greater ways.
That said, I wish I could freeze my kids right here.
The toddler years were hard on me. I struggled with postpartum depression. I was pregnant, nursing, or pregnant AND nursing for a very long time. Dodging the hormonal waves, with a bun in the oven, baby car seat swinging from my right arm, toddler dangling from my left hip and a preschooler holding onto my back pants pocket, following along like a baby duckling… it was something else.
I remember watching first steps in a daze. I remember smiling. I remember snapping photos and recording videos. I remember wishing all the milestones brought me more joy. I remember quietly carrying the weight of shame, for not being good enough for them because I SHOULD feel happier.
That was a long time ago.
They have grown.
I have grown.
I’m busy. So incredibly busy. I’m not changing diapers, spoon feeding or bouncing while singing sleepy lullabies anymore.
I’m momming in different ways.
I’m coordinating, counseling, coaching. I’m giving rides, making meals, volunteering hours. I’m chairing the elementary school yearbook, working on the youth soccer club board, running a cheerleading program, teaching my two homeschooled kids (subjects I have to spend time reteaching myself first) and trying to show up other places in between. It’s not graceful. By most people’s standards, it is a disorganized chaotic mess. But I have never felt more right about my purpose.
The more I try to show up (better) for my kids, the more I learn about myself.
I have struggled with ADD and anxiety my entire life. I look back on all the crazy coping mechanisms that I employed and I marvel. What a resourceful little girl I was. I could hear and feel the panic in my body. I didn’t know what it was but I did everything I could to try to calm that storm.
Somewhere between baby #1 and baby #5, the ability (and desire) to control a perfect anxiety free facade broke. —What a gift!
When I’m not forcing my body to run on muscle memory, I can experience the joy of creativity. I never knew such things lived in me. I spent so much time trying to quiet the thoughts that made me swirl. I saw the dreaming and sporadic ideas as distractions. Anything unstructured felt too free. I couldn’t build Legos without a plan. I couldn’t draw without something to trace or mimic.
Around the time that I entered middle school, I remember beginning to hear phrases like, “You are so smart. Just get it done.” Or, “You are capable of so much more.”
I was smart. I KNEW I was. But somehow I couldn’t execute, anymore.
I would make incredibly detailed lists. My school agenda was flawless. In perfect handwriting, I listed EVERYTHING. Then, I cherry picked the little wins.
✅ Turn-in field trip form.
✅ Put lunchbox in backpack.
✅ Pick-up library book.
I would get my list nearly completed and feel great about it! Two things left out of 17, “I’m killing it today!“ Nevermind the fact that the two things remaining were: “finish English essay” and “read chapters 13-19.” NOPE. Hard pass. Just thinking about sitting down to do those things made my heart race, my hands shake and my stomach turn. Worse, the hesitation made me feel guilty, sad and very confused about the measure of my intelligence.
The harder classes got, the harder faking it got.
By junior year, drinking had become my best solution. If I was drunk, people expected way less of me. It also broke the chains of OCD style structure, that I had trained my brain to demand. Booze was a terrible friend though and certainly not a long term fix.
It’s been 14 years since I have consumed alcohol. During that time, I went back to college. I assumed that being an adult would change my learning experience. It didn’t. My sister sat next to me and helped me read. She pushed me through dry and lengthy history books. I would fold laundry or wash dishes, while she read out-loud and asked me probing questions. My body needed to move so that my brain could listen. I would cry on the nights she couldn’t come. I was in my late 20’s. What was wrong with me?!
I have spent years trying to figure out who I am. Trying to break crappy affirmations, that have played on repeat. Jumping over gut-wrenching hesitation, when I try to say things like, “I AM smart!”
As a mother, my biggest worry is about making sure that my kids feel heard, seeing them where they are at in life and being the place they want to go to sort it all out.
I’m not perfect. I get hurried and short-fused, I swear more than I should and I probably yell too much.
I’m not the mom who will yell about a C, though. I can’t. I just CAN’T.
I am the mom who will remind you (often) that who you are and how you act, is far more important than any individual accomplishment.
Momming five is hard. There is never enough time to dedicate to each of them. I will probably fail in many areas as a mother but I can only hope that being available isn’t one of them.
Two years ago, at this time, Sydney was struggling.
Sydney is the middlest kid in our family. Being number three of five can be tough. Early on, Sydney was often trapped in the nuances of the boys desires. The three of them carried many similar interests. It was easy to overlap activities and sports, to make life more manageable. Syd played both hockey and soccer. Not because she particularly enjoyed either but because she loved her brothers, it was what they were doing and the alternative was to stand on the sidelines simply watching. After Olivia was born, Sydney began to gravitate toward more “girly” activities. Something about having a sister in the house gave her unspoken permission to embrace the dolls and glittery lip glosses, that used to make her feel separate-from.
Don’t get me wrong, she always loved a well-timed extra fluffy dress and the occasional bows pinned on her pigtails. She also had a tom-boyish streak and a point to prove. The boys were not EVER going to leave her behind.
As they got older and each of them started school, you could see their individuality really begin to define itself.
Sydney has always been a raspy-voiced, dry sense-of-humored, sarcastic, quirky personality. People either find her endearing or puzzling.
Using books and isolation to bury emotions, Sydney was quietly shouldering more than we realized. She’s always been a bit of an introvert so we just assumed she was recharging her battery, when she retreated to her bedroom each day after school. It was more than that.
School was hard.
Academically, she was ok. Socially, she was bumbling a bit. Testing into the highly-capable program helped. It placed her with many kids who were similar in their social quirkiness and independent mindsets. The one pitfall of being in highly-capable was that her peers never varied from year to year. Once you test in, you stay with the same group of classmates (changing only your teacher with each new year) until you transition into middle school. If you end up with any difficult personalities or relationships, you have no escape. Being highly-capable, the kids are often told how wonderful and extra special they are. The title of their classroom alone, reaffirms that entitlement daily. It’s an interesting dynamic.
During her last year in public school, there were some staffing deficiencies. Sydney’s class had experienced multiple teacher changes, in just the first semester. Without consistent eyes on the kids, some bullying within the room was able to take hold. Winter break brought a flood of tears at home. Sydney begged for any Christmas gifts that we had purchased to be returned. In exchange, she wanted all new clothes, “better style,” her eyebrows waxed and her legs shaved. She was 9. What she really wanted for Christmas was to go back to school and not be picked on or bullied. Her appearance was the only thing she felt she could control.
Sydney wasn’t the only child struggling with bullying in the room. There was a boy who was taking a fair share of the brunt. He ultimately ended up writing a list of classmates that he wished would die (be killed). It was nearly half the room. Sydney was on that list.
We were at a parenting crossroads. We needed to make some adjustments.
We decided to double down in the areas that were working and scrap the rest.
Sydney needed some undivided attention. Badly. That was the first year we decided to REALLY commit to her Girl Scout Cookie selling. We were determined to make it her very best cookie year. She needed a win. She loves her Girl Scout troop and her troop leader. It’s a place where her “oddness” is embraced and she is never asked to grow-up fast(er) or to conform to expectations she isn’t ready to understand.
During that cookie season, I had many long chats with her troop leader. Her troop leader had home-schooled all of her kids. These kids had graduated high school early, gone on to various colleges and grown up to be successful happy adults. The more I researched, the more empowered I felt. I already met the qualification minimums for being Syd’s educator. I could do this!
After we finished the cookie season, selling over 1,500 BOXES OF COOKIES, I walked my ‘Declaration of Intent to Homeschool’ form into the district office.
Being a high cookie seller is a big commitment. It doesn’t happen by mistake. It’s a lot of time spent pulling a wagon door to door and standing in front of grocery stores. The month we spent changed my relationship with Sydney and also my feelings about Girl Scouts as a whole. Particularly, selling cookies.
I actually wrote about cookies right after that season wrapped up, if you care to read more about that specifically:
Homeschooling has given me incredible insight to where Sydney is at. It helped me grasp what (educational) areas she was excelling in and put focus on the areas that needed more support. It also gave us a lot of one-on-one time to talk through everything else.
In the summer that followed fourth grade, we found a wonderful homeschool coop. We were able to partner with teachers and other homeschool families, to personalize Sydney’s education. Words can’t express how much this community has meant to us.
Part of our at home curriculum includes teaching PE. This can be covered in a variety of ways but we wanted something structured for Sydney. The boys are heavily invested in their athletic communities and much of their social lives are rooted within teammate relationships. We really wanted to be careful about where we submerged her though. So much time and love had been poured into refilling her self-confidence tank, we didn’t want that to be undone.
Sydney loves cheerleading. She used to pretend the skirts and giant bows embarrassed her but at home she treasured them. Since my sister and I both cheered in high school, we decided we could probably manage coaching a junior squad. It took us a few months to put a plan together, file paperwork, retain insurance and solidify our own 501(c)3 status. We had friends, within close reach, with kids who were very interested in joining us. So far, it has been a success! We couldn’t be more proud of the squad. The team is made up of 12 girls that range from pre-k to 6th grade. The older girls are incredibly patient with the younger girls. It’s a very sweet environment.
Sometimes I feel like we are moving mountains to create and cultivate space(s) for Sydney to shine and be her brightest self. All while knowing full-well, we can’t protect her from everyone (or everything) that will try to dim her light. —Just give us a little more time, giant-scary-world. Ok?
Nothing can overshadow the joy I felt watching Sydney’s cookie video playback for the first time this year.
We filmed that video in our kitchen, with a handful of takes. It’s not perfect but also, IT IS. It really-really is. I watch her face, her mannerisms, her sparkle and the eye contact she makes with the camera. A camera she would usually shy away from or simply pretend to engage with.
She has come so far.
A culmination of things has brought her to where she is at today. But I thank Girl Scouts and cookie season for being where it began. —And to the troop leader(s) that gave her a caring space to unapologetically be herself, long before we knew how badly she needed it.
Sydney wants to go to Europe and travel the world with her troop. I will hustle cookies with her, every year, until that dream comes true.
And in the meantime, I will keep sharing her newest video because it makes me so incredibly happy to see her so much happier.
Happy birthday, my sassy girl. I hope 12 is your most magical year yet!
💚🍪🤎 🎶💚🍪🤎 🎶💚🍪🤎 🎶💚🍪🤎
**Sydney chose to parody a Billie Eillish song because Billie is far from polished, she pushes against all fashion norms AND… Billie was homeschooled, just like Syd. ❤️