I fail Ryder. All the time. I’ve started realizing that my obedient child, my responsible child, my sweet child, gets less of everything because he doesn’t make any emotional demands. In fact I hardly have to get on him about anything because he’s my tiny red-headed try-er. Truly, a parent’s dream. He has this innate need to do the right thing, and I rarely have to worry about what he’s getting up to when I’m not around. It’s easy to overlook the needs of a small human who does everything right.
Scarlet needs, and she needs, and she needs. She needs so much that I spend most of my free time training her to control her personality. Teaching her to reign in her anger. Coaching her to be better so that she can help people instead of hurting them. My oldest has always been hard. I have a distinct memory of staring down at her when she was four months old and knowing she’d need…extra. But Scarlet is another story and right now I’d like to talk about Ryder.
Ryder is kind. He’ll be seven years old next week. This month my boy won an award in which he received recognition and a certificate in front of his entire school for being kind. A ceremony which I forgot about because I was hosting a conference in downtown Seattle for aspiring authors. I was not sitting in the fold-out white chairs when his teacher called him up in front of the entire school and handed him his award. I was not there to take his picture. And I was not there to hug him and tell him I was proud.
Ryder is charismatic and smart. The same week that he won an award for kindness his peers voted for him to be their first grade representative. Each grade at my children’s school has a representative; from first to eighth. The grade presidents meet once a month to discuss classroom issues. Can you imagine? My tiny little red head sitting at a table with all the big kids, talking about classroom politics. He’s the youngest one. But he didn’t make his first meeting because I forgot.
I forgot about show and tell too. Because that’s me. Overloaded, stretched thin, never looks at her planner.
The day after my writer’s conference was picture day at my children’s school. Already carrying the guilt of missing his ceremony, as well as the classroom representative meeting, I felt like a complete mom failure. I figured I could at least make sure they looked spiffy for their school photos. The morning of, Scarlet for once woke up early and got herself ready without my prompting. Ryder is my early bird, a complete morning person. He was confused when he woke up thirty minutes after his sister and she was dressed and ready to go. To make it clear, he did not wake up late, in fact he was right on time. His reaction was explosive anger. He thought that I had forgotten to wake him up.
“Little kids don’t matter!”
That’s what he screamed at me as he stormed off to the bathroom and slammed the door. Ryder doesn’t scream things at me. In fact he’s the one who hugs me when Scarlet screams at me. He’s the one who tells his sister to “lay off” when he sees that I’m at my wits end. I tried to explain that he was right on time, that he’d woken up on schedule and that Scarlet had gotten up earlier than normal. But my normally forgiving, logical son wasn’t listening. I knew there had to be something more bothering him. And why wouldn’t there be? I hadn’t shown up for him even once in the last few weeks.
When he came out of the bathroom I knelt in front of him and explained the situation once more. I told him that he did matter. Then prompted by something I felt in my spirit, I began to list the things I loved about him.
I love that you forgive so quickly
I love that you never hold a grudge
I love your laugh
I love the way you ask guests if they’d like something to drink when they come over
I love that you do chores without me asking you to do chores
I love that you always know the twists in movies
I love that you work so hard at school
I love that you get hangry just like me
I love that you’re six years old and keep track of all the money you spend in a notebook
I love that you love babies
I love that you are so popular
I love that you make an effort to be kind to that annoying kid
I love that you admitted that you were jealous of someone because they got more attention than you
I love that you laugh at yourself
I love that you cry in movies
I love that you worry about children who have less
I love that you’re always dancing
I love that you say “Thank you for the day” to your teacher EVERY SINGLE DAY
I love that you’re good at every freaking sport
I love that you made your own comic book.
I love that you’re the coolest kid I know
When I got done saying all of those things Ryder lifted his head from my shoulder and looked at me. He was crying. Not hard crying. Tears streaming down his little face-crying. Silent hurt.
“Did mom make you sad?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“Did you really need to hear that?”
I’m so sorry, Ryder. I’ll do better.
I don’t always know how to balance. To give everyone the attention that they need. I am essentially a stay-at-home mom…with a full time career. I feel so overwhelmed that recently I’ve started to have panic attacks again. Oh, ew! I haven’t had those since college. And so in light of everything I’ve realized that it’s probably time for me to make some changes. And while I haven’t fully figured out what those changes need to be yet, I am working on it. I’ve unplugged a little bit. Truth be told, I’ve stopped answering texts. Those five minutes everyone wants from you, they add up. Those five minutes when you hop on Instagram, or Facebook, or Twitter-they add up. I’ve set about organizing my time better, scheduling things like writing and social media. I’ve hired a cleaning service. I’ve set down my phone to be more present.
The bottom line is: my children come first.
They did not ask to be born. I summoned them to this world, and it is my responsibility to get it right. I’m willing to work hard and change so that I can better meet their needs. Being a mom is hard. So hard. Don’t ever downplay your role as a mother, and don’t you dare let anyone else downplay that role to you. I hope you can learn from my mistakes here. Maybe be encouraged by the fact that none of us really have it together. But, most importantly I hope that this may make you look at that one kid you have, the one that sometimes gets overlooked. That kid may need you to look them in the eyes and tell them all their good things. Go do that today.