My perfect witness

My Perfect Witness

Monday marked 17 years of mothering for me. It hardly seems possible, Harrison!

Though I've written about perspective and I regularly encourage parents to show themselves compassion, there are times I falter. I am fortunate to have strong mentors who help me to shift:

From "I waited too long."

To "Jake was only 11 and you started making these changes! How lucky he is!" (Thank you, Caroline Rhodes.)

From "He had the old me the longest, he suffered so much."

To "At 13, Harrison was in the best position to really grasp the fact of your transformation." (Truly obliged, Kathryn Tonges.)

So Harrison, as you turn another year older, I wanted to tell you about my reframe.

Instead of being my sorriest victim, I like to imagine you now as the perfect witness to my change. I hope you can draw strength from my journey as you face your own inevitable, painful challenges (some of which, yes, are based in childhood experiences).

We have been through so much, you and I.

May I go back in time and offer you messages from my truer self? I hope she sounds familiar -- you know, the one who has a new, skilled-up, P.E.T. sensibility and a heart that is more steeped in empathy.

Age 6 months

We came home one day with you still sleeping in your car seat. When you woke up, I moved in with my array of stimulating chatter, singing, music and stories but, for the first time, you protested loudly. After checking your diaper -- no, that wasn't it -- I fished around for other possibilities. You continued to wail as I kept up the "ABC" song. 

With a creeping suspicion, I timidly put it out there, "Oh! Do you want me to be quiet?"

That was it!


Sweetie, I like your congruence and your assertiveness! Thank you for letting me know of your need for peace. 

You're going to have to be patient with me; it will be a long time before I learn the importance of everyone expressing what they feel and need

Age 2

When you met Jake for the first time and roared at him, I had ready a stash of small gifts, having read somewhere to do that for the big sibling lost in new baby hullaballoo.

Harrison, it's hard being the big brother! Everyone is talking about the baby and you look like you are not sure this is going to be a good thing. How lonely not to have that acknowledged! I want you to know that the super special place in my heart for you, and only you, is still there and always will be.

There are many times jealousy, competition and resentment will arise between you two boys. A couple of years later I will even scold you for ALLOWING Jake to bite your hand so he will get into trouble! I will miss many chances for you to feel OK about yourself, that there's nothing shameful about your negative emotions, that they will dissolve under the light of simple acceptance. 

I WILL eventually learn to Active Listen (even roars and non-verbal behavior) and to facilitate for more closeness between you and Jake. I will work hard at it and I will get good.

Age 5

When you lied about selling your Pokemon cards on the school bus, you were so terrified as Dad and I, well, let's just say we chose to use a truckload of Roadblocks!

You are so embarrassed! You didn't mean to do anything to us (mortify us, waste our money, lie straight to our faces) but were just doing something to meet your needs (fun, acceptance, exploration, self-esteem).

I want to believe in, and bring out, the best in you and me. I will get better at sharing my values in a way that puts down less and teaches more. 

Age 9

When we moved to Hong Kong from small town Connecticut, I failed to pick up on months of cues and clues. One day, I found out you had twirled off so much hair that a humongous bald spot now crowned your head.

My hurting, anxious child, I want to be more in tune and present in your world, but I am not even really in touch with my own yet. Mindfulness -- what's that? Emotions -- I have no clue what I'm feeling!

As I gain more emotional intelligence in class (armed with lists of feelings and needs), I will learn how to open the door to conversation and to listen long without judging or offering solutions so that you do not feel so alone. The P.E.T. journey is one of connection -- please hang in there.

Age 10

I didn't like myself much when, day in and day out, I angrily nagged at you to get off the computer. I felt I was pushing you away with every question and accusation.

Yet I don't know how to help myself! That will come later and I will find that underneath my explosive indignance is fear, helplessness and a narrow sense of what it means to be a successful parent.

By examining my values, I will eventually free myself from the false link between screen time and my self-esteem as a mother. Happier days are ahead for you, my gaming child!

Age 13

This was the beginning. I was in my parenting class and I had just pulled off the highway because your brother and sister were really going at their fighting.

After stomping around, I got back in and started blasting the Mraz song "I Won't Give Up." Once through it, I was apologetic for wanting to listen to it again but I really needed its comfort just then!

Harrison, I haven't forgotten the way you told me, "It's ok, Mom, I'll put it on repeat." You saw I was cracking and being real in front of you and you came to my aid.

Age 14

You really shot up in height this year. I saw how the girls at school liked to take the opportunity to give you friendly hugs. You would just look down at them with your gentle, slightly puzzled smile.  

Oh boy, this is hard to watch! I am literally turning away, cringing

As you've started dating, I'm gratified that the lines of communication between us still spark with activity. I don't need to know everything but I love that I'm more or less still in the loop. 

Age 15

I continue to make mistakes but the Consciously Unskilled Episodes are fewer and my recovery time quicker. We truly spend more time in the No Problem area. 

Harrison, you recognized a kind of blossoming of someone who was closed and folded into her own anxious state all the time.

"You seem so happy now!" you told me once.

"I am!" I answered in awe.

Age 16  

I have had many startling moments this year as you grow into young adulthood. My most painful epiphany -- I was slow on the uptake, perhaps because my relationship with Jake was so tumultuous and consuming? -- was that my approach and choices over the years had had an effect on you, the "quiet wheel" of our family.

I deeply appreciate your willingness to forgive me and I realize that it may take a while for you to truly do so.

Age 17

That's you now, my beautiful 17 year old witness.

There is more change to come for both of us and I am thankful to have you by my side.


Harrison, there have been times when I feel the distance between you and me is the greatest among all my children. Last fall, I confided in a friend that I was shy about taking you to visit colleges: what would we talk about on the long car rides?

By staying with that uncomfortable feeling -- rather than jump in to solve it by planning activities, conversation topics etc. -- I found a vulnerable self just needing a bunch of things

  • love
  • acceptance of all my past and continuing mistakes
  • acknowledgment that I am trying so hard to remake myself using the P.E.T. beliefs and values that see the good in me as well as my children

In a first, I resolved to JUST BE in any quiet, awkward moments that arose between us; to allow the nervousness I might feel; to offer myself compassion; and to quit grasping for control. 

My mindfulness worked! Since that trip, I have felt our bond strengthening. I am pretty sure it's going to hold when, next year, you are off to some truly lucky campus

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