I’ve written for a range of venues, academic journals, online, magazines, newspapers and an entire book. I write about toddlers, children, working mothers and parenting but never as a blog. On a daily basis, I observe or think about issues related to children or myself as a parent that I imagine would be interesting to a wider range of parents. Yet, I’ve never put the proverbial pen to paper until now.
I began writing How Toddlers Thrive on cross country airplane trips, to visit a cousin and her family. She was ill at the time (better now) and I wanted to help with their kids. The distance across country felt so far away, the only way to be a support was to be there in person. And anyhow, I had these ideas for a book. The plane rides became a bit of a haven for me. When you’re a parent, there is little alone time. Before children, I had time before work, after work and in between as un-devoted time I could grab for myself. Since becoming a mother over 17 years ago, the allotment of the hours in the day changed. Work time, family time. So the plane ride provided me that ‘other time’, a captivated space without responsibilities. No laundry, bills to pay, piles of last week’s mail or toys to put away. No distractions. Just stuck on an airplane. And I began to write a book.
I mention this because I also started this blog while traveling on an airplane earlier this summer when I headed west to meet up with our oldest child. He was in the Rocky Mountains building trails with other teens. We took a road trip to visit a college and then drove across Kansas. Neither of us had ever been to Kansas. Driving across the plains and farmland was a journey. These are the pleasurable adventures (alone time with one child in a new place is pleasurable, even if the drive gets dull) that come with having older children. A bonus of this trip is that it afforded me the time and space to start a blog. Here it is, the first post of the Inchworm Blog:
I imagined if I wrote a blog it would be titled The Inchworm Blog. It’s not that I am a huge fan of bugs, although I’ve had my share, especially those summer flies and gnats, having grown up near Lake Erie in Cleveland. I’ve also chased and caught bugs of various sorts during my own childhood and with my children. One day a few summers back I was out with my youngest child, who was about 8 years old at the time. He was repeatedly complaining of hunger. Being hungry is not unusual for my three kids, but it was fairly early in the morning and we’d just had breakfast. You can imagine why I had little sympathy for his requests to eat. Instead I quipped about his needing to eat more breakfast tomorrow. He quietly responded that he had not finished breakfast because there was an inchworm crawling on the toasted waffle he had begun to eat that morning. I was taken aback yet this sounded odd to me. It was a frozen waffle that had been toasted. I could not imagine an inchworm living in a freezer let alone remaining alive after the searing toaster heat. Honestly, I was also more than a bit repulsed by the thought of him ingesting an inchworm (even though I suspect it is a harmless form of protein). As a mother, I felt a bit guilty, too, about having served my child an inchworm, even if unknowingly. My child was not so repulsed. Although he did call it ‘gross’. But it was as it was. “What did you do with it?” I hesitantly asked, crossing my fingers in the hopes he had not actually eaten it. He reported that he washed the inchworm down the sink and threw the contaminated waffle remainder away. Phew! No actual inchworm ingestion.
Fast forward a few days. I am at lunch with my literary agent as I am working on writing How Toddlers Thrive. My phone rings and it is this same child, the one with the near-ingestion of the inchworm experience. He is full of excitement: “Mom?! I figured out where the inchworm came from! I found its home! And there’s an entire family! A whole family of them!” He has such passion and zeal that he can barely breathe enough to get the words out. The best I could muster in response was a bland and un-enthusiastic ‘great’, as I simultaneously worked to manage my disgust and not muzzle his enthusiasm. To his grand delight, the inchworms had arrived via a bunch of sunflowers in our kitchen. He conveyed how he noticed one slowly descending down from the flower on that fine silk they spin (“Isn’t that great, mommy?!”). He was so excited, in fact, that he plucked them out with care, one by one, ‘To save them and give them a new home so they can grow into butterflies.’ From my point of view this was a clearly spelled out nightmare, inchworms in my kitchen. I was flooded with one idea, ‘Let’s get rid of the sunflowers, and they can live outside happily-ever-after.’ From his point of view, it was far too late for that. The flowers were no longer home to the inchworms anyhow. Instead, they were now in a container with a cover. Could I come home and help him poke holes so they could breathe but not escape?
I’ll spare you the details and summarize here. He and one of his brothers spent time reading online and figured out how to nurture and nourish the entire inchworm clan (an educational aspect to the inchworm saga for sure). It involved finding the right leaves and purchasing a spray bottle for daily hydration. Gradually over the course of a week or so, these little inchworms spun their cocoons. Then one day, I heard a yelp of delight, “A moth! A moth!” The first inchworm-turned-cocoon emerged. For accuracy sake it was a mini-moth; the type that invades your food cupboard. On the one hand, this was an exciting moment for my son. He found joy and accomplishment in lovingly raising his inchworm pals into full-fledged, albeit tiny, moths. Daily a new one or two emerged, clinging to the container top, awaiting release into freedom. From my view, this was not joy. I will sheepishly admit that I’ve had infestations of moths in our food cupboard. It is plain and simply gross to have moths crawling in your flour, oats and pancake mix. I like to think of myself as keeping our home reasonably organized and clean, even if not perfectly so. Having bugs in the cupboard does not fit well. Yet, my wanting to rid our house of inchworms to avoid any moths entering our food pantry had to be put aside as I watched my son’s sheer joy each time a new one cocooned or emerged as moth. It was triumph. Science. Learning and pleasure all wrapped into one. The story gets even better. We had a trip to visit his other brother, who was spending the summer at sleep away camp. The 8-year-old proclaimed: ‘I must show him the inchworms! He will love them. Anyhow, they will die if we leave them overnight.’ No arguing with that. I could not take on the label as inchworm or cocoon killer. The little bugs accompanied us on the road trip, stayed in the motel with us, and were introduced to the counselors and campers on visitor day. Back home, none infested our cupboards, and they all made it through to the daily ritual of hatching and being released into the great outdoors.
I recount this story because this is where the idea for a parenting blog originated. That is because there is a lesson here about raising children. The point is this: I did not want the inchworms to remain in my home (as I believe most reasonable adults would agree). I also was able to catch myself and recognize this desire as my adult-self looking at these creatures as unwanted bugs. In this view, bugs belong outside. Pushing myself into another mode, as parent, I could begin to see otherwise. I sensed that convincing my son to find a home for those inchworms outside was all but futile. In fact, it would completely overlook the experience he was having. And soon I even shed the desire to do so. It took my shifting into his space so I could see and feel his excitement in this discovery. The lesson here is about moving into the parent mode and looking at the world differently- from our children’s view. It changed my reaction and behavior, and often that is what is needed when we interact with our children.
In this case, my letting go of the ‘oh, yuk, bugs’ mode allowed us to have a child’s adventure as a family. Not that it was easy for me to let go, it usually isn’t. But I felt I had to. That is truly what it means to follow a child’s lead. To see and experience the moment as they see it. By allowing my 8-year-old to have those inchworms in captivity, he nurtured and raised them, witnessed their daily turning into moths and gave them freedom. It is not all about the child, though. The lesson is also about the parental role. Children look to us to guide them, even when they disagree or argue. They thrive with structure and boundaries and I kept a structure around this enterprise. It had to do with ensuring the container was sealed and only opened when no moths were hatched. I was firm. I needed a guarantee of zero moths in my house. A reasonable limit was set and my child could then have the room to experiment and find success as a moth breeder. Setting limits is what gives children freedom to explore. They know the adult will keep them safe. I forced myself to view the situation his way, and put my icky-feelings about inchworms away.
I hope not to have more to say about inchworms, they are (happily for me) long gone. But children grow up slowly, inch by inch, moment by moment, day by day. This is what I will have thoughts to reflect on and share with you: The magic of the child’s world, big ones and little ones. On relationships, children, raising children; on being a parent, juggling or searching for that middle ground; on working, noticing, seeing; on parenting challenges, adventures and misadventures, on marriage with kids and on life. Stay tuned for the next entry- maybe it will be about parenting lessons learned while driving across Kansas with my son. Welcome!