In the last 24 hours, I’ve cried more tears than I’ve cried in the last 6 months. For me, ya know – well – I’m a crier. So that says a lot. I’m not sure I’ve felt pain and heartache quite as intense as I’ve felt in the last 24 hours. You’re only as happy as your least happy kid. I thought I understood that. And 24 hours ago, my understanding of the feeling that comes along with that was brought to an entirely different level.
It’s an interesting thing this social media “platform”, a blog that you use to share and to connect. There’s a fine line. Especially when it comes to your privacy, your kids, and what you share. I’m cautious about what I share, especially when it has to do with other people in my life. But my kids don’t have a “say” in that because they don’t understand it yet. So there’s this weird reluctance to share when something goes on with them, especially since so many followers are my friends and family who know her personally, yet when I do share, I’m connected to so many mamas who have gone through something similar, who’s kids have had similar struggles, from moms who needed to hear they weren’t alone.
When my kids are in their teens will it be “right” for me to share something so personal? Probably not. Is it now? I’m not sure. But when I got on my instastories yesterday to share with my followers that I was going to the gym for the first time since my back injury, what happened in the two hours prior just came out. And I didn’t come on with the intention to share it. And I certainly didn’t intend to cry. And I pondered posting it – mulled it over and over in my head. And then I shared it. And what happened after was truly extraordinary.
My DMs were flooded. My text messages were buzzing from my friends and family checking in. My phone was ringing. The stories I heard in the following 24 hours from moms who needed to hear what I shared, who felt comfortable enough to share with me the struggles they have experienced with their children – it was astounding. Stories of anxiety and depression and special needs and mental health issues. All of it. Sometimes we just need to hear we’re not alone.
I felt humbled that people on the internet – most of which I’ve never met before – shared so openly – trusted the telling of their experiences – with me. I know social media can be a weird place – and a lot of the time – not such a positive place, unfortunately, but sometimes, just sometimes, you’re reminded about the extraordinary amount of connection and comfort that can be found there.
If you follow me on Instagram and tune into stories, you know Olivia. You feel like you know her. Because she is that unique kid. The one people message me about and say “not in a creepy way, but I’m obsessed with your daughter.” She’s not the quiet little polite girl. She’s very unique and she booms with personality. Always has. She’s just a certain kind of special – one that one day might result in an Academy Award or a Pulitzer Prize – or SOMETHING. I’m not sure what. She’s always been hard to put into words.
Because of her personality, she presents as very confident. She’s so kind and inclusive and friendly – makes friends with everyone everywhere we go.
Her birthday is late December. The cutoff for our schools is December 31st. After going back and forth and back and forth about whether to hold her back to be the oldest in the younger grade or the youngest in her “proper” grade, we decided – after much deliberation with her pre-school teachers who knew her very well – to send her as the youngest. She’s big for her age so you certainly can’t tell she’s the youngest by looking at her. And socially she’s always been right up to speed, super verbal from a very young age. And academically – she was just fine.
Fast forward to first grade. She’s a bit behind academically. Should I be ashamed of that or embarrassed to share that as a mom? Society might tell us yes, we should be. Because our kids need to be the “best” – but guess what – it’s OK! Every single child has some type of need, some strengths, some areas that need improvement. So do WE, as adults, and we should not be ashamed of that either. We have health issues and mental health issues that we should NOT be ashamed of, even though society tells us we should hide that. We shouldn’t talk about it openly. There’s a “stigma” that I hope will one day be broken.
So Olivia is in a reading lab at school with an incredible reading teacher, her first grade teacher has been phenomenal, and we’ve had a tutor for her once a week. IT’S OK! How lucky that we are able to provide her that extra support.
But let’s go back to 24 hours ago. It was time to go to school after a two week break. She’s never said a word before going to school. She has only indicated a love for school. She always looks and seems happy when I drop her off and pick her up. Not yesterday. I’m going to leave out details because I do want to keep a degree of privacy for her. But it was a really hard morning. And she indicated that school is hard. Which I believe to be the reason behind that anxiety.
I heard from the teacher mid-day. She was a little teary in the morning, but her wonderful teacher kept the day light knowing it was a hard transition for many coming back after a long break. And she said after about an hour she was acting great.
I picked her up from school.
She looked great.
Relief. Such relief.
But then the nighttime hit. And it was the most pain I’ve felt so far as a mom.
We were reading. And doing some math. And she was frustrated. And that’s when it started. She let out how she felt about herself. And if your heart could literally break, mine was in a million little pieces. I’m not going to repeat what she said – again – to try to protect any degree or privacy I can, but it was a wake up call.
She’s noticed she’s on a different reading “level” than some of her friends. That she doesn’t write detailed paragraphs like her friends, that she’s younger and apparently has been teased for that, and that sometimes it’s hard to read what she writes. She has internalized it. And my precious little six year old has these thoughts about herself that literally will rip your heart out.
“Don’t break down in front of her, Julie. Keep it together.”
Mom survival mode kicked in.
I told her to repeat after me.
“I am smart.”
“I am strong.”
“I am capable.”
“I am kind.”
“I can do this.”
“I am beautiful.”
She did not even hesitate. She did it. Repeated without questioning me.
And I started talking to her about her dad – about how school was also hard for him sometimes. And that there were a lot of kids who weren’t always so nice to him.
And I told her that mommy has to work hard at things every single day to get better. And that I always had to work extra hard in school because nothing came that “easily” to me. I always had to work for it. And get help when I needed it.
And I reminded her that she wanted to quit softball last spring because she “hated it”, but that we don’t quit – we see things through until the end. Even if we don’t always want to.
And towards the end of the season she knocked the socks off of a pitch and then guess what became her favorite sport to play? Softball.
It all comes down to confidence. When we don’t think we’re good at something, we want to stop. Because it’s hard. We stop when it seems too hard which barely even gives us the chance to build our confidence in that area. We just need one good hit. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
Before I left her room we repeated the mantras again and I kissed her goodnight. And then I went to turn the bath on because I needed some time to decompress. I was crying, trying to process everything she said to me.
And then the most extraordinary thing happened.
I heard her singing in her room.
And I turned the video on my phone and recorded her sweet, personality-filled voice singing.
And I’m not sure anyone could listen to it without tearing up.
She was singing the mantras. “I am smart. I can do it….” Making up her own words along the way. It went on for about two minutes. She even sang “I’m grateful for what I have.” We didn’t talk about that one. Not today. But it’s something I talk to her about almost every day. But I’ve never heard her repeat it or say it out loud on her own.
Our kids are listening.
They are also watching.
It’s been a wake up call. One about how I act actually model for her the behavior that I want so badly for her. My best friend who’s a very talented therapist told me to model it – even if it feels awkward.
So Adam came downstairs this morning before he left for work and said “I’m going to kick some butt at work today. What about you, Liv?” lol. We are working on it, but hey, it’s one of those things that you don’t actually think about! And now – now we will.
I’ve looped school staff in, I’ve looped my family in, and I’m reminded how much the day to day attitudes that I portray make an impact on my kids. The words I say. The way I treat myself.
I ordered a workbook that we can work through together to help with any anxiety and I’m going to find some activities to work on self-esteem.
As someone who didn’t have a lot of confidence growing up, but never talked about that, I am so GRATEFUL a six year old, in her own words, told me that it’s going to be our priority now to build hers.
At the end of the day, I could care less how “smart” my kids are. I want them to be healthy, I want them to be kind, and I want them to be happy – and a big part of happiness does come from confidence. At least that’s been my own experience. And I work on it every day. And our kids and toddlers and teens don’t always know how to tell us they need help with it. Sometimes they mask it well. I always did. Sometimes I still do.
Learning to work hard teaches kids such important life skills that will serve them better than they know in the future. It makes them more empathetic. It builds their character. And it will also build their confidence.
This building block of life that we need at every age and that is hiding within us. Check on your kids. They won’t always tell you. I feel so lucky mine did. And I know it’s all going to be ok. And it’s something that might not be “normalized” yet to openly talk about. But man is it important. And in our household, it will become normal to talk about it.
A wake up call that was so hard, but maybe the best thing that ever happened to both of us.
We’ve got this.