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Two birthday cards that made me think twice about how I'm parenting

Posted April 1

My birthday was last week, which is always a very reflective time for me. It’s true what they say, that days can feel like weeks but the weeks feel like days and pretty soon another year has flown by and I’m 32 and have four boys and a giant hairy dog and husband (not necessarily grouped together).

I always imagined what I would be like in my 30s when I was young and “30 was old,” as Deana Carter sang in her hit song “Strawberry Wine.” Thirty did seem old and very mature. I imagined myself a lot like my mom: put together, disciplined, calm and a purposeful parent. Someone who showers daily and wears exercise clothes to actually exercise in.

I wish I could say I am all those things, but the truth is, I am not my mother. I am always behind, while she is always on top of things. My hair is usually in a messy pony while hers is always freshly washed and perfectly styled. I exercise maybe once a week, twice if I’m feeling really on top of things, while my 58-going-on-27-year-old mother is running marathons once a month. (Does being pulled by my bear of a dog down the street and having to sprint to stay on my feet count as running?)

Getting out of bed is one of the hardest things I do every day. I often feel like a football player shoved onto the playing field without a helmet and pads, who is getting tackled by hungry boys screaming, “Mom, get up, the breakfast is open!” (Don’t they know I own this restaurant?!) My mom regularly wakes up around the same time I feel I finally fall asleep, around 4:45 a.m.

As for being a purposeful parent, that is one thing I feel I am putting all my effort into. I want nothing more than for my kids to feel that they are loved, guided and supported. I want them to have strong testimonies and to learn from their mistakes. And because my childhood was so magical, I ache to make theirs the same.

Every day, I make it a point to get out of the house and do something fun with my boys. Outings are great to get out their energy, explore and learn and restore my sanity when they are using our banister as a climbing wall or jumping off our bookshelves onto the couch.

But when I received two very innocent but brutally honest birthday cards from my oldest sons last week, it made me rethink this whole idea of “having fun” together.

My 6-year-old, Beckham, handed me his homemade card first. “To: Mom. Frum: Beckham.” On the front was a smiley-face girl with pigtails and a word bubble that read, “It’s my party!” Adorable.

The card opened backward to read:

“You are so cool

even though you don’t play with us

but you take us fun places.”

I didn't know what to say. I laughed but felt guilty and sad at the same time. He thinks I never play with him?

My 8-year-old’s card was next. It had a similar illustration on the front, with the addition of four stick-figure boys waiting for cake and a different word bubble that read, “Don’t forget, Mom gets the first piece.”

I was feeling pretty good after the opening line of, “Dear Mom, Happy Birthday! You are the best Mom ever!” Then it took a surprising turn. “What are you doing today? Let me guess. You are seeing the play with GIRLS ONLY. Why only girls? Why no boys? From, Boston.”

My sisters and mom had planned to see “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and, because the General Women’s Session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was that evening, decided to have a girls day out.

“Boston, I didn’t think you would want to see a play!” I said. “And Beckham, what do you mean I never play with you? We do so many fun things!”

Most of the time, my boys act like they couldn’t care less about me hanging out with them. They like their clothes laid out, their lunches made and their baths drawn, but they are pretty good about entertaining themselves. This was a sweet reminder that more than anything, my boys do care, and just as much — or possibly more — as going fun places and doing fun things, they just want me. Even if it's greasy-haired, stretchy-pants-wearing, slightly haggard and severely exhausted grumpy old me. I may not think I am as amazing as my mom, but maybe my boys see me as I see her: “the best mom ever!”

I never think I have enough time to actually get on the floor and play with my children because there are a hundred other things calling my name. But as an older, wiser 32-year-old, I hope I can learn to listen more to my boys and less to the noise.

Here’s to a card that next year reads, “Dear Mom: Thank you for playing with us!”

(And for showering.)

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News. Her email is carmen.r.herbert@gmail.com.

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