I’m Not Sure How to Mom Anymore



I have two sons.  In just a month, they will be 11 and 13.  And our home, well, it’s not the same as it used to be.  There are basketballs and gym shoes, shin guards and dirty socks at every turn.  There is a constant search for missing earbuds and phone chargers, and “pump up” music, the kind that plays before sporting events, has become the soundtrack of our lives.  There is a funky smell here, a mingling of stinky shoe, sweaty uniform, and Axe body wash, that wafts through the air.  And it is next to impossible to keep snacks stocked in the cabinets.  Almost-teen boys are a lot less snips and snails and puppy dog tails and a lot more bottomless stomach.

I don’t mind wrangling the socks and washing the uniforms, and I’m learning to hide my favorite snacks from the scavengers who live here.  I know to watch for loose balls at the bottom of the stairs, and I’m an expert at hunting for “lost” equipment as we are running late to practice, again.  I don’t even mind the stinky smell.  I mean, I don’t like the stinky smell, but I’m becoming desensitized.  And my mother-in-law buys me candles, so that helps.

What I do mind is that these simple, insignificant changes signal something bigger, a shift in my responsibilities as a parent, a change in what motherhood means.  The canary that represents childhood at our house is barely hanging onto its perch.  I’ve been trying to resuscitate it, but it isn’t working, and the thought of a dead canary here nearly stops my heart from beating, too.

My little boys aren’t so little now, and I don’t really know what I’m doing.  I’m not sure I know how to mom anymore.

I was skilled at rocking my sleeping babies.
I was quick at chasing my busy toddlers.
I was smart at exploring the woods with my curious preschoolers.
I was impressive at creating crafts and experiments for my kindergarteners.
I was even good at teaching my inquisitive elementary students to read.

But I don’t know how to parent 10 and 12.




A few weeks before Christmas, my younger son begged me to chaperone his concert rehearsal for fifth- and sixth-graders who play strings.  He pleaded with me several times, and I changed the subject several times, mostly because missing work usually creates more work for me in one way or another.  But he persisted, and the teacher sent out a code red that said something like “We are in need of chaperones” but that sounded to me like “These kids will never amount to anything if none of their mothers even care, for goodness sakes.”  And also I realized that my little boy is 10, and he was begging me to go, and in just a few short months he may be begging me NOT to.

So I signed up.

On the morning of the rehearsal, I was excited to spend a little extra time with my son.  I waited in the office until the secretary released the students for the trip and boys and girls rushed into the hallway with music books and backpacks and violins.  I hurried to the bus to welcome them and watched through the window as my son and his friends approached.  Soon he boarded, giggling and chatting with his classmates, who quickly shuffled past my row to claim the seats in the back.

He may have said hi as he passed by.

I’m not exactly sure.

But I am sure that there was no hug, no I’m-so-glad-you’re-here-Mom, not even a pause for a chat or a fist bump.  There was nothing, really, to indicate that the two of us were any more related than any other pair of people on that bus.

The rehearsal went off without a hitch, and soon we were boarding again to head back to the elementary school.  On the return trip, I glanced behind me every once in a while to see what was happening in the seats in the rear.  The kids talked and joked and laughed and enjoyed escaping the classroom for an hour or two.  When the bus doors opened once again, the students hastily exited to return to class.  And the kid who had begged me to chaperone this trip scurried down the hallway without ever looking back.

And that was that.

My dog wagged her tail and jumped excitedly when I got home, which soothed my fear that I had turned invisible after leaving the house in the morning.  I checked the mirror and pinched myself just to be sure.

Yep.  I’m still here.

Later that evening, to my surprise, my ten-year-old thanked me for going on the field trip “with” him.  He was so happy that I had taken a few hours off work to ride that bus, even though it had seemed like my presence didn’t matter at all.  The truth was that he never intended to spend time with me on the way to his rehearsal.  He just wanted to know that, when given two choices, I would choose him.

Thank goodness I did.  Because I came very close to failing that test. 

I may have felt a bit neglected that morning, but I knew exactly where to sit at the concert that night for a perfect view of my son and his cello.

So there’s that, too.

This is what parenting 10 looks like.




Last Friday, my older son’s middle school basketball team was recognized during half-time of the varsity game at the high school.  It was a big deal to us.  But as we finalized our plans for the evening, he seemed unexpectedly stressed.

“Mom,” he said, looking conflicted, “you can just drop me off at the high school.  I mean, if you want to, that’s fine.”

Drop him off?  Was this kid serious?

This was going to be a sweet moment.  I mean, he was wearing a freaking bow tie, and they were announcing his name, you know, over the loud speaker.  In front of a big crowd.  At a varsity basketball game.

No, drop off is not an option.   

“Okay, yeah, well, I really want you to be there, Mom.”

Yes . . . I know that. . . So what am I missing?

“But it’s okay if I hang out with my team, right?  You won’t care, will you?”


Of courseYour team.  Right.  Your friends.  For sure.  Absolutely.  I mean, that will be perfect because I really just wanted to concentrate on the game anyway. 


So my son played it cool with his teammates while I sat alone in a gym packed with people since the rest of the family had other things to do.  It was different.  But I enjoyed observing my son from a distance, seeing the whole picture of who he is without the distraction of the details.  I enjoyed watching how he interacted with his friends and  admiring the young man he has become.  I know I’m his mom, but, really, that kid is pretty amazing.

I didn’t mind cheering for the home team while he socialized since I love watching basketball, too.   But I was shocked that night, because something about high school has definitely changed, and very recently, I think, because I have been teaching high school for thirteen years and I have never noticed.

Get ready for this.  Grab a chair because it’s crazy.  Ready?

High school boys LOOK JUST LIKE GROWNUP MEN now!

Seriously, when did this start happening?  And why aren’t we researching how to make this stop?

I looked at the players in disbelief, imagining what my grown sons will look like and wondering how ALL of those changes can possibly happen in the next few years.  It seems impossible.  Glimpses of the future flashed through my mind, tempered by glimpses of the past, when I was cheering from the student section and my husband was the high school basketball player and everyone loitered at Burger King or ran through the Taco Bell drive thru after the game.

Time is not a distance runner.  He is a sprinter.  He races past at an incredible speed.  Kids grow up, and adults get old, and moments pass quickly and are lost forever.  Our only hope of bottling yesterday is to preserve its memories.  And that only works if we take time to make them.

While we were at the high school that night, my son touched base with me only once.

Yes, when he needed money.

But on our way home, he talked and talked and talked about the events of the evening and the conversation he had with a former coach and the funny things that happened with his friends.  And the two of us decided to run through Taco Bell, just like my friends and I did in high school, even though we had already eaten dinner, even though it was after ten o’clock at night.

I wonder if, ten years from now, he will remember eating those tacos with his mom after a varsity basketball game in 2017.

I hope that he will.

This is what parenting 12 looks like.




When I started teaching, I worked at a rural high school in southeastern Ohio with a man named Jim Williams.  Jim Williams was tall and serious and a respected veteran teacher.  He had a dry sense of humor and a quick wit, and it seemed to me that he had read every piece of literature that had ever been written.  He was also the chair of the English department, so he was, at least in my mind, my boss.

I was a novice, still learning the ropes and finding my confidence, and Jim Williams was never anything but kind to me when I worked with him.  But, because of my own insecurities as a young teacher, I felt about fifteen years old whenever we spoke.  My mind defaulted from being the high school teacher to being just another student, although he always treated me as a respected colleague.

So Jim Williams and I didn’t chat very often, mostly because I was more comfortable feeling my real age of twenty-something than defaulting to an anxious fifteen.  When I needed professional advice, he was helpful, but I didn’t hang around long enough to discuss the news or the weather or my life outside of school.  The English wing had no extra room for me, so I could easily escape to my classroom by the gym with any seeds of wisdom he had shared.

In hindsight, I should have devoted more time to learning from Jim Williams than to hiding from him because he shared some of the best advice that I have ever been given.

And it had nothing to do with teaching.

It was a gloomy winter day at the high school when I received a message that my baby boy was sick and I would need to be home for the next couple of days.  Not only was I striving to excel as a teacher at that time, but I was also just learning to juggle the demands of teaching and motherhood.  Before having a baby, I rarely used a sick day, and I often continued working after school until late into the evening.  I took pride in my commitment and my creativity and all of the extra hours that I logged.  I don’t remember exactly what I said to Jim Williams that day, but I imagine that it was some version of an apology for needing to be home.

What I do remember clearly is that he stopped me – so that he could say something profound instead of listening to my nonsense.

Jim Williams said, “There will always be another teacher, Mary Ann.”

Oooooooh.  That burns.  I mean, I’ve been trying really hard to be the best and to do the most and to keep all the plates spinning.  You haven’t even noticed?

He wasn’t finished.

“There will always be another teacher, Mary Ann, but your son will never have another mother.”

See.  I told you he was smart.

Yes, it stung, but I understood what Jim Williams was saying.  He wasn’t telling me that I was easily replaceable or that my teaching wasn’t up to his expectations.  He wasn’t saying that hiring a substitute for a day or two would be equal to my presence in the classroom.  But he was telling me to take a deep breath and prioritize.  And I needed that.  Because sometimes I was so worried about being the best teacher for my students that I wasn’t being the best mother for my baby, even when I was at home with him at night.

Jim Williams was saying that my presence as a mother matters.

And I have never forgotten that.




Maybe raising 10 and 12 isn’t as complicated as I think it is.  Maybe it’s mostly about presence, about “choosing” the people we love and connecting with them whenever and however we can.  Maybe it’s as simple as being in the same place, even when we are all in separate rooms doing separate things.  Maybe it’s just about being.  Maybe just being is exactly what my sons need.

Don’t get me wrong.  We eat dinner as a family and play games together.  We plan fun events and talk and spend time with grandparents and friends.  Those things are important.

But there are many more hours now when I am not chasing anyone or disciplining anyone or teaching anyone about fractions or saving anyone from harm.

There are many more hours now when I am just here.

And that’s okay.

Maybe parenting 10 and 12 is being close enough to come to the rescue but far enough away to let my children take a chance.  Maybe it’s watching them climb the tall, scary ladder, and then holding the safety net under the tightrope they are walking to become men.

The minutes, they pass quickly, and there is no buying them back when the canary’s song fades.  So maybe I just need to relax, enjoy the journey, and remember that just being matters.

And maybe it matters the most when it seems like it doesn’t matter at all.



Image Source: Steven Depolo under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic


The Year of New

2016 the year of new

On the very last day of 2015, I squeezed in this new year’s post and shared this resolution worksheet with all of you.  It was a small token of my appreciation for all of the kindness that you had shown to my little blog in 2015.  Frankly, I am still surprised, humbled, and incredibly thankful that you have come along for the ride so far!

When I posted this worksheet for you, I hadn’t yet tried it myself.  It was still a theory, as in, “I just know this is going to be fantastic!  This is good, right?  Maybe?  Fingers crossed!”  But I am also a pro at embracing theories that fail miserably.  Like my theory that our boys needed a really cute, rather expensive playhouse in the backyard that turned out to be invisible to them except when it interfered with their soccer game.  (Not really my problem.  My kids don’t know something amazing when they see it.)  Or my theory that getting each boy his own hamster would prevent headaches for me in the long run.  (Did you know that a female hamster can get pregnant immediately after delivering the first unexpected litter of baby hamsters?  No?  Yeah.  Me neither.)  Or my theory that roller skating  with  my kiddos would allow me to feel young and free of responsibility for a while.  (You know I’m still paying the medical bills for that one.)

Fortunately, this time my theory proved to be correct, but not right off the bat.

First, let me remind you that I live with three human beings who are all fighting for survival in one stage of manhood or another.  At my house, this means that words like “feelings” or “reflection” or “mom has a great idea” are usually met with some combination of grunts and moans and groans.  Generally, any suggestion that doesn’t involve sports or inappropriate jokes or video games has to marinate with them for a while.  As one of my smaller men said while pretending to cry (to get a laugh from the other men, I’m sure), “Sometimes it really stinks to have a mom who’s a teacher!”

Plus, they always know that I’m outnumbered.  It’s so unfair.

So when I first mentioned at the dinner table that we would be doing this little project, they scoffed and made a few jokes and grunted and acknowledged their masculinity.  Once we got that out of the way, everything went just as I had planned.  Lesson to be learned, ladies: If you have a tough audience, don’t give up too quickly.  That tough stuff is all on the exterior, I promise.  Unless you actually know my husband, in which case I swear that he really IS a tough guy, inside and out.  Seriously.  No, really, he is.  Don’t get me into trouble.

I may have planted the seed during a family dinner, but my secret to learning the joys and the hurts and the longings of my boys’ hearts is to corner them when no one else is home.  Those quiet times, times when we can talk without distractions, when the testosterone level in the house is not at a critically high level, are some of my favorite moments.  And no matter how much they scoff at my crazy ideas together at the dinner table, they are surprisingly receptive to them when we get to spend some quality mom-and-son time with one another.  Honestly, we had a lot of fun filling out these worksheets together, just the two of us, reflecting on the year that was and the year that is still to come.

Sometimes we take for granted that we know our kids, that we know what is important to them, what matters to them most.  But sometimes we are wrong, and that’s a shame, because they will often tell us if we just take the time to ask some questions and then to listen to what they have to say.  I wasn’t surprised that both of my sons remembered 2015 as a year of sadness.  It was a tough one for all of us.  Our fall was a fog of farewells and funerals.


But the second part, the part about Lola, was something that I didn’t even remember at first.  I expected my son to talk about a sports achievement or a report card for this one, but his proudest achievement from the entire year was the time he saved our puppy from harm.  He had been carrying her on a snowy winter day when he slipped on the ice on the patio and crash landed; she was just a tiny pup, and he was responsible for her, so he cradled her in his arms even as his head hit the cold, hard concrete.  I had forgotten about how worried I was that he might have had a concussion.  I had forgotten about how proud he had been.  I had forgotten what a warm, loving heart that boy has when he’s not telling fart jokes.

And then there were conversations like this one, with my sarcastic pre-teenager.


Yes, that actually says that in 2015 he learned that “a date is also a fruit that makes you poop.”  I guess this is a quotation from his favorite cartoon, Gumball.  This kid loves an audience, but he is also happy just to crack himself up.  And he really is funny.  He is witty and smart, and it was nice to take a break from questioning his filtering mechanism just to laugh with him for a while.  He can be serious when he wants to be, too.

year of less

I’m pretty sure that we haven’t cut back on screen time just yet, but he is doing well so far with the others.  He also decided to spend more time on art this year because I think he had actually forgotten what a talented artist he is.  He made this Star Wars card for his friend’s birthday recently, and I am pretty sure that if that kid weren’t one of his best buddies, he wouldn’t have given this away.

star wars

My favorite part of the one-on-one sessions was helping each boy choose a quotation to guide 2016.  My younger son scoured the Internet for quotations from athletes he admires.  We talked about several of the quotations that he found – some examples of good character and others, not so much – and he settled on this one from Lebron James:

“Don’t be afraid of failure.  This is the way to succeed.”

Nice choice, right?  My older son immediately ran to his room to find this quotation from NBA basketball player Muggsy Bogues:

“If you can play the game, size doesn’t matter.”

So many of the things that we worry about don’t really matter if we are willing to work hard and stop making excuses, right?  This boy is passionate about basketball, but he is small, so this quotation motivates him to stay in the game just like Muggsy did at 5′ 3″.  Another good choice!

I shared my quotation for 2016 with the boys, too.  It doesn’t need an explanation:

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26

Next, we needed to work together to create a family motto, so it was back to the dinner table one evening.  Our goal was to complete the statement, “2016 will be the year of ___.”  I was thinking of something like “kindness” or “teamwork.”  You know, something that would promote good character at home.  But that was just me.

One of my men suggested, “2016, the year of the chicken.”

Don’t ask.  I have no idea what that means.

Another suggested, “2016, the year of awesome.”  Now this seemed, well, AWESOME, at first, but we quickly realized that it would be impossible to measure.  I imagined a year of conversations like this:

           “Wow!  Those roasted Brussel sprouts were awesome.” (Me)

          “No way!  Yuck! That was awful!  You know what was awesome?  That football game
we watched last night!  Remember when that one guy did that one thing and they
replayed it twenty times?  That was awesome!” (A son)

          “Yeah, right, that was great . . .  I loved every minute . . . *Sigh*”  (Me)

Then my husband suggested, “2016, the year of NEW!”  And on the outside I was smiling and nodding, but on the inside I was thinking, What are you doing???  Work with me here, dude!  New?  What does this even mean!  I knew we should have talked about this . . .   However, as the idea started to take shape, I realized that this was a fun and challenging resolution.  New doesn’t mean that we have to BUY new things every week.  It means that we have to TRY new things every week.  And they don’t have to be BIG things; they just have to be NEW (to us) things.  And NEW is easy to measure.  You have either tried it before or you haven’t.  No debate!   So here is what it looks like so far:

Week 1: New Recipe
(It was okay . . . Not wonderful . . . But it was new!)


Week 2: New (Old) TV Show With the Kids
(Parental warning: This has been fun, but there is more innuendo than I remembered!)

image1 (1)

Week 3: Ice Cream Taste Testing
(Sorry, Jimmy.  Colbert wins by a landslide.)

ice cream vote

Week 4: Lunchbox Quotes of the Day
(More about this to come in another post!)

quote of the day

January is almost over, but it’s not too late to start a new 2016 tradition with your family, too.  So far, the “year of new” has prompted some interesting conversations about what we have learned or tried each week, and we already have some fun ideas in store!  It is also relatively easy; you can always try a new food, read a new book, see a new movie, or play a new game without investing too much money in the experience.  From our house to yours, we hope that your 2016 is off to a great start!

Be adventurous!  Try something new!

~Mary Ann