lessons from emma

Emma hates it when I say this, but I used to want only boys. I never even thought about what it would be like to have a girl. I was the youngest in my family, and the only girl, and I thought I would know better what to do with boys. There was also the appealing thought of being the mama of several adoring boys. Who wouldn’t want that? So when I got pregnant with Emma, it came as a bit of a shock. Actually, to be honest, it completely threw me for a loop. Getting pregnant again, in the first place, was a surprise – if there is such a thing as an “accident”, this was one. I had only just had my first 8 months earlier; and since he’d been born by c-section, I hadn’t planned on getting pregnant again anytime soon. But when the doctor told us it was to be a she, I was blind-sided. I tried to reconcile it all with thoughts of little dresses and dolls and other girly things, and eventually, I figured that could be kind of fun. Emma had a different idea in mind. I often tease her and tell her she came out screaming. You see, Emma saw things very clearly from the beginning. She knew what she wanted, and the way she wanted things to be. She was very determined, and we butted heads all of the time. It was a hard time for me – I felt not only like a terrible mother because I couldn’t seem to get it right with her, but I also felt like a terrible person because there were times when I resented the whole motherhood thing.

We managed to get through the next couple of years basically through trial and error. We were sort of getting the hang of it, but it was never easy. When Emma was just two, things changed. I was pregnant with my third child and I had been feeling a little out of sorts, so I took a couple of days off of work. I decided to make a girls’ day out of it, and took Emma to this terrific new mall that had opened up about 40 minutes from home. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t quite as fun as I had hoped it would be. Emma wasn’t very cooperative, and after a couple of temper tantrums, I called it a day. We got back into the car and as we were driving out, I saw one of my friends getting into her car with her children. I slowed down and greeted her. She asked how we had done, and nodded my head toward Emma, who was sitting in the backseat, and said “terrible”. Less than 15 minutes later, I was slamming on the breaks as we collided straight into the car in front of us, causing a four car pile-up. The crash itself escapes me but I know that I was either looking into the rearview mirror, or possibly at the radio dials, and as I looked up, I was headed straight into a traffic jam – cars were stopped and we kept going. I had been in fourth gear, so I must have been going at least 80 km/h. I don’t really remember the sound of the metal crunching, but I do remember the smoke from the airbag. My glasses had been knocked off in the impact, and between that and the smoke, I couldn’t see very well. I didn’t know where I was, but as the smoke cleared, I heard crying in the back seat. I got out, climbed into the back seat and took Emma out of her car seat. Miraculously, she was fine. She had bumped her head on the passenger seat in front of her, but luckily it was padded so the bump wasn’t serious. Visits to the hospital later on confirmed that both Emma and the baby I was carrying were fine.

The impact shook a lot more than my nerves. It made me realize that I needed to reevaluate a lot of things. For two years, I had been trying to force Emma into a mold that I had created in my own head of what little girl should be, and by doing so, I wasn’t being the kind of mother she needed. Emma’s strength of character, her will, even her obstinacy made me realize that she was different. She simply wasn’t going to allow the world to put her into a category. She would be strong, and independent, and she would be responsible for who she was. Opening my eyes to that taught me not only about the kind of mother I needed to be for her, but also about the kind of woman I wanted to be. I had always believed that women didn’t have to be weak, but until I met Emma, I didn’t actually realize that I was one of those women who could be strong, and that power was a good thing. With Emma as my guiding light, I have since grown up a lot. In the past 6 years, Emma has taught me more about womanhood than I could ever have hoped to teach her.

And so it is that today, Mother’s Day, I wish my darling Emma a happy day. Emma opened the door for me to a world of resilience, strength and confidence. I know that I still have a lot to learn, but we are doing this together, and with Emma at my side, I feel we can accomplish just about anything. Happy Mother’s Day, sweetheart. And thank you.

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Even as a child, I would study the unexpected turns in my life and try to find the lessons in them. I am nothing if not reflective. As an American citizen raised in Sao Paulo, Dallas and Madrid, I am a classic adult TCK*. Perspective is key, and I look at everything through multiple lenses. It used to make my son crazy when as a boy he would press me for a firm stance on something and I would often answer “well, that depends…” I am a thinker and learner, writer and story teller, counselor and coach. After almost of quarter of a century in k12 education, I am now on sabbatical, taking some time to breathe, reflect, dream, explore life’s many gifts, and write. When I was around 8 years old, I starting writing down my dreams and these turned into stories. I have been blogging since 2010, have published several articles about the need for change in how and what young people learn, and I am currently working on a couple of manuscripts. One is a collection of motivational essays for women leaders in international education which I am co-authoring with my friend and colleague, Debbie Lane. The other is more of a memoir, a personal story about love, sacrifice, and hope. Hope and gratitude are common themes in my writing, my work, and in my life in general. Everyone has a story to tell. Thank you for taking some time to explore mine. I hope you’ll come back. *A TCK is a third-culture kid, someone who has spent a significant number of their formative years outside of their passport country. It is an experience that typically has a profound impact on the development of self and identity.

2 thoughts on “lessons from emma

  1. It was great to read this! Your experience of motherhood with Emma reminds me of what I’m seeing with Liv so far. I thought after two boys that she would be the still, affectionate one! Ha! Won’t stay in my arms for more than a few seconds at a time and already has a little mind of her own! Good perspective/advice on how to be a mom and let your child grow into who they truly are! Thanks. VLA


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