June 21, 2010

Celebrating the Birth of the Practice Child

Thirty-four years ago tomorrow, I became a mom for the first time. Even though I was still a child myself, I had a child. They'll let anyone have babies, ya know...shouldn't there be a law against that?

Oh, how Shannon suffered from my naivete! Poor baby! 

I later referred to her as the "practice child" - I got to make the first mistakes with her. Every time I did something, it had the potential of being the wrong decision. Was I too lenient? Yes. Was I too strict? Yes. Was I crating a demanding, spoiled child? Yes. Was I causing her to have boundary issues? Sure. At one time or another, in my very own type of inconsistent, yet loving, parenting style, I did it all wrong.

The very fact that she survived all my maternal shortcomings just proves the resiliency of the human spirit, and the unlikeliness of "ruining" a child the first time you do something stupid.

I really hate to hear babies cry. It makes me anxious, and spurs in me a profound desire to find out what the problem is and resolve it pronto. My first baby, and boy, she was a cryer. When she was an infant, we sometimes cried together, as I was frustrated with my failure at soothing her. 

As she grew into toddlerhood, she still cried more than I thought desirable. She was a moody little girl - I used to say that she was in the middle of adolescence from birth until the age of 19.

When her sister was born, and Shannon was 29 months old, she saw the new arrival as an interloper...as competition for toys and my attention. She did not embrace sisterhood easily. When she heard the news that Erin had arrived, she said, to my mother-in-law, "I don't want to hear it!"...and that set the entire tone for these sisters who shared a room until they were in their teens.

Yet, when I was pregnant with The Boy, she'd come home from college some weekends with onesies and bibs and other assorted stuff she'd bought for him. And when I came home from the hospital with him, she was a tremendous help, and took care of him so I could rest and recover from my c-section. She fully embraced sisterhood the second time around.

Shannon liked frilly and fancy stuff. Despite my absolute distaste for all that ruffly, girly stuff, I let her decide what clothes she'd wear, and I bought her things she'd like. 

We were so dissimilar about so many things. She also went through that phase when she had Kirk Cameron and Hanson posters on the wall - I hated that stuff. Adolescence, for her, was one big carnival of slamming doors and angry outbursts, followed by tears. I just didn't "get" her a lot of the time then.

Shannon is sensitive, shy, serious...but can be kind and silly. We never shared the same sense of humor - and I'm sure my sarcastic nature warped her in some profound way. She takes a while to warm up to new situations - and I tested her mettle many times as we moved around the country. 

I'm sure I've given her loads of material to discuss in therapy.

I was rarely sure that I was doing right by her. But then on Mother's Day, when she was away at college, she gave me this audiotape as a gift...and I figured out I must have done something right, in spite of myself and our rocky times.

Happy 34th birthday, Shannon. I am proud of the woman and of the mother YOU are. Even as I watch you take care of your own children, I still can see and hear the little girl that you were.

Thank you for letting me practice on you. And in this pic? You're totally rockin' the mom face...guess you did learn a few things from me.

I love you.


  1. Happy Birthday to your beautiful daughter.

  2. Happy birthday to your daughter!

    Thank you for giving me hope. My girl is 17, just graduated and we are still firmly in the "I just don't get her" phase. I am looking forward to coming out the other side.

  3. Awwww...this was wonderful. Since I only have one child to practice on, I'm glad to hear she came out good!!! : )

  4. Happy Birthday Shannon!

    What a wonderful post!

  5. happy birthday shannon! good job mom...practice works!

  6. Happy Birthday to your daughter! I love that last picture. She does have the mom face! I wonder if I am "ruining" my first child, too. My husband and I are both a little laid back and lenient and I think it has caused him to be a little too "spirited." But, I don't ever want to crush his spirit. I want him to run and play and be loud and be a toddler!

  7. Beautiful post. Beautiful song and the fact that she set it to you is indeed proof that you are beautiful. I have a lump in my throat and my eyes are filled with tears thinking of the beauty.


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