There have been moments in parenting when I’ve wondered what gave me the right to think I could be a decent parent, what my intentions were, and how I could (please) do a better job. It began with my body healing after childbirth, sitting for hours breastfeeding and wondering if my butt would be permanently flat, smelling like spit-up for what seemed like years, toddler temper tantrums, snot, potty training, and the exhaustive list goes on. It’s harder than you ever imagined possible, and there are many, many moments of feeling lost.
Every stage has its challenges, but none has been more difficult, or more fun for me than raising a house full of teenagers. They are amazing. Learning what type of adults they’re becoming, testing boundaries, making horrible decisions, exploring the world around them from an “almost-adult” perspective. With the number of kids under my care, I’ve had the unique pleasure to experience drug use, multiple proms, suicide attempts, drivers licenses (and the learning to drive phase), failing grades, award ceremonies, sexual experiences - some good, some not. There are moments that the attitude in the house is fun, sarcastic, and playful, and other times that it’s so tense, I’d like to put myself in time-out. In another country.
The question I’ve asked myself the most is if I’m doing a good enough job. Am I inadvertently screwing up a generation - the generation that will be taking care of me in the not-so-distant-future by the way. I don’t ask because I feel like I’m doing a bad job, or I’m too hard on myself, more because parenting is so damn hard and I want to do it so great. In these moments when I know, I didn’t handle a situation super well, and one of the kids doesn’t even want to look in my direction, I question.
Innocent situations present themselves sometimes. My daughter in her senior year of high school was looking for a job and my online neighborhood chat had someone who needed childcare for their daughter. Match made. What was unexpected was how much our family would come to love this little girl and her parents and how quickly they would feel like they’d always been there. Since I work from home, I’m able to get 16-month-old snuggles and giggles during the day when my daughter needs to do homework and when she took a trip to see her big sister, I spent two weeks with Havana.
What Havana reminded me of is how much fun being a Mom has been, that I’ve actually been great at it and that we can make an enormous impact on the lives of others even in passing and yes -- I do mean the impact this family has made on us. Havana learned itsy-bitsy spider, pat-a-cake, popcorn popping, and “I Will” (an ode to the Beatles). We take stock on body parts -- nose, ears, eyes, mouth, teeth, feet, we walk to the bus stop twice a day, take the dog for walks, head to the park to swing, slide and practice walking. Basically every fun pre-toddler activity you can imagine. There might be some toddler toys that have snuck into our home and yes, I’m looking for a high chair.
Helping a new, younger family feel a little less stressed during their week, and inviting them into our lives has definitely been a joy. It’s a lovely change of pace and exactly what I didn’t even know I needed to reset the sometimes difficult moments with my own kids. A reminder of why I started this journey with 18 kids, of how amazing they are and how hard life can be for them, navigating the waters of growing up. Kids are faced with so many challenges from fitting in, to bullying, to social media pressure. It’s been good to hit the reset button, take a breath, sing the ABC’s and be reminded of why I began this adventure in the first place. All it took, were Havana Smiles.