While watching my Granddaughter swim a few weeks ago I chatted casually with my daughter Britt. Her youngest child was making a fuss and the conversation drifted to children’s temperaments. Britt was a very quiet and loving child. She was typically well behaved and when I would visit with girlfriends, she would stay close beside me and just observe. People would often compliment me on her sweetness and I basked in the glory of raising such a lovely little girl. Turns out she was just good natured. It had very little , if anything at all to do with me. How do I know this? Well…
Time passed and I had another daughter. Little Miss Drew. What a spitfire she was. By the time she was seven months old, Rene’ would tell stories at the office about the little anti-Christ who had come to live with us. Some believe the description is rather strong. Those who know her well, can attest to her temperament. As she grew older her fiery nature grew as well. She knew she was a middle child long before she became a middle child. Defiant to the core we finally gave up by the time she was four and let her do as she pleased. This was about the time I weighted in heavily on the nature side of the nature versus nurture argument. To be fair, she did a great job of raising herself.
Sammy came along after that and although he was active and played hard, as boys do, he had a truly sensitive nature. He was much more like his oldest sister. A coaches dream, always paying attention and listening. He rarely caused problems in all the years he played team sports. He was a sweet little guy and all the little girls just loved him. I did learn that boys just break stuff. It is in their DNA and Sammy was no exception. To be fair, he was always truly and utterly sorry.
As the years flew by, I was surprised by the differences in my children. Just as I thought I had it all figured out, one of them would react in a way in which I was never prepared. I felt like a fraud. I certainly knew nothing about parenting and yet there I was raising children. I remember one day when Sam was a brand new baby. I was stopped at a red light and I had all three kids strapped into the backseat of the car. As I watched them in the rear view mirror I was gripped with overwhelming panic. I had three children! Three! Here I was, twenty nine years old, barely able to take care of myself and I had three kids. I had never really felt capable but this was the day I realized I was just the bumpers in the lives of these little people. Sort of like bowling bumpers. They put them up for kids so they don’t throw gutter balls. The ball bounces back and forth but stays in the lane. It gives the kids a fighting chance until they learn to throw the balls straight. Or, in my case, until they can navigate life without hitting the gutter.
Rene and I were raised in completely different manners. He was the eldest boy and I was the youngest girl. Not only were our parents expectations completely different, our family dynamics were polar opposite. Although I was a quiet introvert as a youngster, I developed a stubborn and hard headed manner as I became a teen. I was compliant when it suited me but when I was told no, and I thought it unfair, I did as I pleased. My siblings can attest to the headaches I caused my Father. I abided by the rules that I found to be fair. Sounds like someone I raised. In the early years with Rene’ I tried to adopt a “please your man” attitude. Unfortunately for Rene’ it didn’t last long and child rearing in our home took on a Pedersen twist more commonly referred to as “my way.” I wasn’t the best mom by far though I certainly couldn’t have been the worst. I aimed for mediocrity. Through each decade I have become more and more outspoken and opinionated. Part of it was a survival technique. I was loved and doted on as a child and being an adult is hard. People can be just plain mean. In University no one cares if you fail. That is on you. Entering the work world is intimidating and I soon learned working hard wasn’t enough. You had to push for recognition. Marrying some guy and, lets face it, his family and their foreign ways… well its tough.
My manner has served me well but it has also caused friction with some people in my life. Truth be told, it has also caused great embarrassment for my kids on many occasions. As for Rene`, he usually just gets concerned when I am quiet. He recognizes the signs of anger. Ultimately, he does not own my actions. He understands that we are individuals and as such we are responsible for individual choices. He is a very wise man. He gets me. The bottom line is this. If you have an agenda I believe in, you want me on your side. I will fight tooth and nail for a cause I can get behind. If you cross me I walk away. I have no time for fitting into another persons agenda. If you debate me in an open friendly way, I will respect you and learn from you. Don’t list my faults for me. I am well aware of my shortcomings and there are hundreds more than the ones you see. In fact, what others see as huge faults aren’t even in the top ten. I am damaged and I am working on things slowly but surely. Life is an evolutionary process.
It turns out most people don’t believe Britt was a meek and quiet youngster. Many know her only as an adult. As she says, “They think I’ve always been this way!” Unlike her sister, she evolved with time and experience. Her husband Anth stands quietly by listening and so I confirm her gentle childhood nature. He smiles with a cocked eyebrow and I can see he isn’t convinced. He knows my girls. I laugh and tell him, “I know what you are thinking. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to tick them off either!” To which Britt replies, “Face it Mom, you raised some very strong women!”
Lost in thought as I drove home from the swim meet, I realized she was right. My girls were born with very different personalities. Through the years they have come closer and closer to each other in so many ways. I may not have had a clue when raising them and I certainly messed up a ton. In the end they watched and they learned. My girls are more like me than they would care to admit. They are proud of who they are and that makes my heart sing. I truly believe the things I said while they were growing up had limited impact. My actions had infinitely more. A lot has changed since that day sitting at the stop light. I didn’t think I had the tools to raise kids. What I’ve learned is the tools are inside of me. I watched my parents. They watched theirs. We change what we didn’t like about our own childhood and we mess up something else. Most importantly we eventually learn each child is unique and even if they came with a manual it would only work for that one kid. Thirty nine years into this motherhood thing, I think I am finally getting the hang of it. Grandchildren on the other hand… That’s easy. Love and lollies…