Friday, December 16, 2011
In theory, I could talk about a lot of things tonight...
...like the way my MacBook Pro laptop has completely crapped out on me this week, which frankly, sucks.
I could also discuss how this blog will look from here on out, now that we've officially passed day 365 and are cruising into year two.
Heck, we could even get crazy and talk about the Christmas spirit. After all, 'tis the season and there's plenty of thought provoking, spiritual material to mull over...
It isn't going to happen tonight though, because all I can hear in my head right now is the melody of a 1976 Thin Lizzy song... which I've rewritten appropriately for our family's newly minted 2011 winter school holiday break:
Guess who just got back today?
Those wild-eyed boys that had been away
Haven't changed, haven't much to say
But man, I still think those cats are great...
They were asking if we could head downtown,
How it was that fun could be found
I told them it was time to settle down
Before they drove their mommy crazy
The boys are back in town...
Our boys are back in town
You know their l'il sister likes to dance a lot
Every day she shows them what she's got
A shy and mellow child she's not
I mean that girl's a dynamo
Tonight over in our kitchen space
Well the girl got up and slapped her brother's face
Man we just fell about the place
Trying to teach her kindness...
Tonight we had so much time to kill
While we waited for our chicken on the grill
Their tempers flew and anger spilled
When the boys want to fight, our house is chaos
That jukebox in the corner blasting out my favorite song
The nights are getting colder, it won't be long
It won't be long till school days come...
But for now our boys are HERE again
The boys are back in town ~
Our boys are back in town!
* * *
So there you have it. I am eight hours into the winter holiday break from school and if tonight is anything to judge by, it's going to be one hell of a 'vacation'.
There must be some evolutionary explanation for the way in which I consistently manage to forget just how hard it is to take care of the three of them at once, especially on days when we have no school/play-date/camp/vacation/agenda.
My convenient 'forgetting' thing must be some sort of survival mechanism... their survival, that is ;-) LOL! If I'd *remembered* how hard it was with just two of them at home fighting with each other 24/7, my husband and I probably wouldn't have had a third.
Now that she's here though, I wouldn't trade her for anything...
So I just have to wade back into the fray tomorrow morning, and try to figure out how to entertain all three of them at once without completely losing my marbles over the next two weeks.
Thank goodness for the major distractions of Christmas and Santa Claus!
Tonight my husband actually reminded my children that we have a direct line to Santa Claus and the North Pole that we can utilize at our discretion at any point over the next nine days... "So you'd better be on your best behavior!" he admonished, but the line didn't get as much traction as he'd hoped.
When you've played the Santa card a full week before Christmas, you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel on discipline... because once that card has been played, really - what's left?
I'll admit that the kids routed us 3-2 tonight in a blaze of (their) glory and (our) exhaustion.
It's no coincidence that my husband was in bed asleep an hour before our daughter finally tucked her head into her pillow. I myself ~ usually a night owl ~ can barely keep my eyes open.
For now then, let us say that Year Two of the blog has opened with a bang AND a whimper:
Our charming, tempestuous bunch had the house literally reverberating with noise and energy to the point that the doors were shaking tonight. (BANG!)
My husband and I held the line until bedtime but then meekly retreated into slumber (whimper...) resting up to stand strong for another day.
School will be out for seventeen days and whether we're ready or not, our boys are back...
* * *
This post stands in lieu of
March 29, 2011 ~ Day 110
A Lost Day
Friday, December 9, 2011
A card arrived in the mail from my big brother today... a birthday card.
Printed on thick, luxurious cream colored cardstock almost velvety to the touch is the photo of a baby tilting its head to the left.
The baby is young enough that you can't really tell from the face whether it's a boy or a girl, but the white polka dotted dress with ruffles and flowers give a pretty substantial hint.
My favorite thing about this photo are the baby's big pointy ears and dark shadows under her eyes. She's got an interesting face... not necessarily a beauty, but there's some kind of a glow behind her smile. Looks like someone who could hold a spirited conversation.
When I pulled this card with her picture out of its envelope today, I couldn't help grinning. I've always loved this photo.
I brandished the card in front of my six year old son.
"Who's that baby?"
Glancing at it for a millisecond, he responded without hesitation.
"It's you, Mom."
I started to tickle him.
"Why are you so SMART?!?!?!"
"Don't you think that baby is ADORABLE?????" I teased. "Without her... there would never have been a YOU!!!"
My son dodged the hand ruffling his hair and laughed. "Sure, Mom. You were a nice baby."
He then scampered away to play with the new remote control car that arrived in the mail today, the same car he earned 25 cents at a time doing chores around the house over the past five months. ($40 saved in quarters = approximately 160 chores. The kid has been really, really focused.)
Gazing again at the card in my hand, I tried to remember what it was like to be that baby. I'm not sure how old I was in the photo... maybe six months? It's hard to say because, like my own daughter, I was born a few months prematurely. It took me quite a while to grow into my own skin.
I have no clear memories before the age of five though, not one.
So I don't honestly have any recollection of the burgundy rug upon which my blanket and I were sprawled that day... nor do I personally remember the dress.
If I had to take a guess at the photographer though, I imagine it was my same beloved big brother who sent me the card. I'm guessing this picture bonds us in more than one way, because he was probably the person who snapped it nearly 36 years ago. He takes amazing photographs, and essentially chronicled my entire childhood through his expert, loving lens.
* * *
This photo captures an instant in time, a relationship, and also some essence of me that must surely still be in there.
I look at the baby's serious yet smiling face and I think of how much has happened to fill her tiny head (alas, it's still tiny) in three and a half decades.
Knowing what I know now about the future life that little girl was destined to live - MY life - I think if I could go back in time - I would probably scoop her up and give her a cuddle. Then tickle her and make her laugh, as I did today with my son, because laughter is so crucial.
I wish I'd done a lot more laughing as a little girl, teenager and young adult. Taken life a lot more lightly!
As a mother I do laugh a great deal with my own kids, but even now I think I could use more laughter in my life. I absolutely love to laugh and am so grateful for the wit, silliness and humor that my friends, family and husband bring to me every day. Even before I met my husband, the boys I always adored growing up were the ones who made me laugh.
I have a best friend so close, she's been like a sister to me since high school. We've known each other for over nearly 30 years now. One of the best compliments she ever gave me was to tell me that, despite how shy I am, I can be really funny when I'm relaxed and have got my guard down.
I felt instantly like I'd won an Academy Award. "I'm FUNNY!"
"SHE SAYS I'M FUNNY!!!"
Decades later, I often remind my children about this.
"Well I SEE you boys over there rolling your eyes at Mommy's HILARIOUS joke about pasta... but don't forget, I'M FUNNY!!! Your Auntie D says so!"
"Mom. You and Auntie D are... OLD."
"You're right!!!" I chortle. "Gee whiz, I'm so old it's AMAZING I'm even standing right now. How has my hair not fallen out yet or gone completely white? Thirty-five long years! Where's my cane???"
* * *
Despite what my sons may think right now though, I don't feel old.
In fact, I feel a whole lot younger than I did three years ago with a dying father, pregnancy complications and bed-rest. I may actually be a decade younger now than I was back then.
I'm also younger than I was one year ago today - when I conceived of the 365 day blog project and explained how it would work.
Writing this blog has actually played a large part in making me younger, healthier, happier.
When I look back on this year, so many dreams have come true.
Some I'd planned, some I'd hoped for - and many I'd never even imagined. I feel so much gratitude for these 365 days. It's been a true joy to record them.
* * *
In just a handful of minutes the clock will strike midnight and, like Cinderella's fairytale ball gown, my 35th year will vanish forever into the dark night.
35 has been for me a year of magic and miracles. Despite a lot of transition and some agonizing, terrifying moments - the year turned out to be so profoundly special. It now ranks as one of the top three years of my life... 17, 26 and 35.
(I guess every 9 years, something really beautiful unfolds ~ so I'm looking forward to 44 already!)
For now though, I have a heartfelt birthday wish:
May this coming 36th year be filled with genuine joy and laughter shared by our family - the body shaking, gut wrenching, clutch-your-stomach kind of belly laughs that cause us to wipe away tears... or, in my case (as a woman who's borne three children) race to the bathroom. Which my children do find VERY funny.
May we stay happy, healthy, loving and ready to discover humor in all situations... and may we somehow manage to bring light and joy to the lives of everyone we encounter along our collective journey through this dynamic, beautiful world.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
My husband is absolutely lovely.
For my 36th birthday in two days, he went way out of his natural comfort zone to make a plan.
A romantic, birthday plan.
Typically he defers to me in matters of planning, but knowing this is going to be a special weekend, he decided to take charge. Very attractive!
First, he arranged babysitting.
That's just a huge gift right there. He singlehandedly orchestrated two grandparents and a babysitter to ensure that he and I would have at least 24 hours to ourselves.
Next, he offered to whisk me back to Los Angeles - the scene of our last romantic getaway.
He even planned a sunset stroll at the Getty Center - the site where he'd originally planned to propose years ago (before, overcome with exuberance, we ended up getting engaged while sitting on a bag of Costco toilet paper).
So basically, for his effort and genuine gift of time and love, my husband gets an A+++. I really appreciate it. He's not a romantic by nature, so the extra effort means a lot.
* * *
Here's the catch:
Christmas is coming.
In fact, Christmas is just two weeks away.
I'm a mom, with three small children who are all SO excited about Santa Claus.
In fact, they've written Santa some really darling letters politely requesting some very expensive toys. On top of which, they're expecting presents from us.
This is pretty much the main reason why I highly dislike Christmas. There is so much financial pressure on us as parents, it takes all the joy out of the season for me.
So even though I should have been thrilled that my darling husband had planned to take me away on a special getaway, instead I've been stressed out.
"How much is it going to cost? What are we going to do in Los Angeles? How can we justify that kind of expense?" Those have pretty much been the questions on my mind.
"If we're just going to do dinner and a movie," I reasoned, "It doesn't make any sense to spend that much time driving and burn through that much gas. The cost of gasoline alone might buy one of my children a special present - a camera, a scooter, a play kitchen, a beginner guitar.
For nights I have tossed and turned, worrying about our trip to L.A.
Finally my husband asked what was wrong.
* * *
I didn't really want to tell him. I didn't want him to think I haven't hugely appreciated his planning, and his big gesture. It's a really sweet thing that he wanted to give me a trip for my birthday.
"I'm a little worried," I said. "About money. I would LOVE to go away with you. But Christmas is coming fast... and I have so many things I need to buy for people we love in the next two weeks. I'm just not sure if this is the right time for Los Angeles."
We went back and forth for a few days. There was one really good reason to travel to LA, beyond my birthday. A family we absolutely love lives up there, and we haven't seen them for many months. Spending time with them would be a great reason to travel anywhere.
Then the wife, who is my dear friend, kindly confided that they will actually be traveling to our town for a week at Christmastime!
This made everything clear, at least to me. I can't wait to see them and am so grateful that they're coming our way.
With that wrapped up, my answer was right in front of me:
I wanted to stay home for my birthday. No fancy trips. No long drives. I want to stay in the city I love with the man I love, and enjoy the genuine beauty of our real life.
I drove around for a while yesterday looking for places where I most wanted to spend my birthday with my husband. My daughter and I drove along the ocean for about an hour, checking out cute little spots. Nothing clicked at first, nothing called my name.
When my daughter melted down in the car (before falling fast asleep) I turned around and we slowly drove back along the coast toward home.
The closer we got toward home, the more comfortable I felt. The more I appreciated the landscape, and the more I felt happy and serene.
Then I realized something very wonderful.
"What I really want for my birthday, is the exact life I am already living. I am so happy here! I love my home."
This is a new thing for me.
A year ago at this time, I felt desperate to get away from our community. I was willing to leave the city and even the country just to get out of the rut we'd fallen into as a family. A year ago, I couldn't get far enough away from my real life. Many days, I fought the urge to drive away... and just keep driving.
I wasn't happy in myself, nor was I happy in our life. Sickness played into that, but a lot of other things played into it too.
How thrilling then, to realize just twelve months later that the life I chose for our family in this new community is still exactly the life I most want... even for a special occasion.
Every day as I drive my children home from school or soccer or the grocery store, I am the most joyful when I enter our neighborhood and wend my way down its serene, cheery streets - full of holiday lights and decorations.
I've chosen a good home, and it's revitalized everything beautifully!
Our children are thriving, our marriage has never been stronger, and my attitude about the health challenges I face has improved a thousand-fold. I am growing a great community-based support system and even developing my faith! My career is back in action, and there is joy in my heart more often than not.
What I want most for my birthday is to spend it celebrating the massive gift I received from life one year ago. I am so blessed by this second chance at lasting happiness, and so grateful for the life we've built.
* * *
In conclusion, we're staying here!
My husband and I are going to luxuriate in our community for my 36th birthday. We got an amazing deal at a local hotel, close to a nearby mountain we love to hike. We're going to enjoy a locally grown, locally prepared meal. See a film at one of our favorite theaters... hold hands as we amble down the streets of our own neighborhood, spinning dreams for our bright future.
I love you, honey. You and the kids are the best birthday presents ever.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
It looks like I've caught myself trying to live through my kid in the past 24 hours, and bungling my words right and left.
I managed to genuinely hurt his feelings, which sucks.
Today happened to be "Pajama Day" at my six year old son's school. One of those "school spirit" type events where children get to be goofy and silly in their pajamas while learning.
I loved those days - both as a child and as a teacher.
Dress up days in elementary school gave me the chance to liberate myself from the role of awkward youngest sibling wearing hand-me-down pinafores and jeans bought on sale (in bulk) at J.C. Penneys.
On dress up days, I got to be anyone I wanted to be. My parents understood the fun of costumes and supported my eager delight in 'crazy hair day', 'crazy hat day', 'crazy sock day' and oh heck, any old crazy spirited day.
Decades later as a teacher, I loved to see the creativity my students put into the funny dress days their student body council put together. I always admired the kids who had the spunk to really "go for it" and dress up in whatever silly, crazy or fun fashion they felt like - without caring about what anyone else was thinking.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my confident students were also often my popular students.
Human beings gravitate toward others who are comfortable in their own skin. Even confident children radiate power.
Sensitive, insecure children who are NOT comfortable within themselves... awkward, shy children... well... those children are a lot like me as a kid. Not the "me during spirit week" (always a more brassy, ballsy version of my true self) but me the other 175 days of the school year.
Gawky. Overly sensitive. Trying too hard to fit in.
That was me at the age of six. And sixteen.
* * *
My son is six years old. As I've mentioned, today happened to his "Pajama Day".
"Ooooh honey!" I exclaimed yesterday when I got the eBulletin. "Pajama Day! That will be AWESOME!!! I'll wash up your best pajamas. Maybe the ones with the snowboards on them? Or would you prefer the basketballs?"
"I don't want to wear my pajamas to school."
"I don't want to dress up."
"But honey, it's going to be so much fun!"
"I don't want to."
"Son, don't you remember the last time you didn't want to dress up? Remember how at Halloween you assured me that none of the other kids at school were going to be dressing up in costume? And then you turned out to be pretty much the only kid in the whole school that wasn't dressed up? And you felt sad and embarrassed?"
"I don't care."
"Well, how about you wear your pajamas and put a change of clothes in your backpack? Then if it turns out that a lot of kids aren't dressed up, you can just ask your teacher to go change in the bathroom?"
"But hon - what if you turn out (again) to be the only kid in your class not dressed up?"
"I don't care. I am embarrassed. I don't want to wear my pajamas to school."
"Won't you be embarrassed if you are the only kid NOT wearing them?"
"I don't care. Pajamas don't belong at school. I'm not wearing my pajamas."
* * *
My husband chimed in, supporting my point of view.
"It'll be really fun, little man. You should do it. I always dressed up on those days growing up. We had a great time."
My son held steadfast, eyes filling with tears but voice belligerent.
I made one final counter-offer:
"How about I just wash your pajamas and put them in your backpack," I sighed. "And if you get to school and everyone else is dressed up, you can change into them?"
He didn't answer, which optimistically I took as a yes.
I washed the soft brown flannel snowboard pajamas and put them in the bottom of his backpack.
* * *
At 12:30pm this afternoon, my daughter and I strolled up to collect her brother from school. It was half day. He'd attended, wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Pajamas stuffed into the bottom of his red backpack.
We arrived just in time. The school bell rang on cue, and students began to stream out of the open door of his classroom.
I watched to see what was coming toward us.
Pajama. Pajama. Pajama. Pajama. Pajama. Pajama... you get the picture. Pajamas everywhere.
It looked like all of the kids - girls AND boys - in my son's class had worn their pajamas. Monster pajamas. Bunny rabbit pajamas. Robot pajamas. Flowered pajamas with little hearts. One little girl wore a blue, full body zip-up footie pajama... with no shoes!
Then came my kid. Sour-faced and defiant. Still wearing his t-shirt and green khaki shorts.
He stared me down with an angry, hurt look.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"WHY ARE YOU STANDING SO CLOSE TO THE CLASSROOM?" he hissed.
"You're TOO CLOSE!"
"Oh. Wow. Ok, sorry about that. So, how was your day?"
His lower lip trembled but his voice did not quiver. Actually, it was filled with accusation.
"Mom - YOU WERE WRONG. I *wasn't* the only kid not wearing my pajamas. There were TWO other kids too. Without pajamas. Pajamas DO NOT BELONG AT SCHOOL." He seemed pretty wrought up.
"Oh, okay. Well, that's great. I'm glad you feel good about your decision. So, how was the rest of your day?"
We veered toward the school gate and began the long walk home.
* * *
As it turned out, my boy was in a real funk for the remainder of the day. By 2pm he'd had a massive meltdown (crying, screaming) and ended up in his room for a calming down period.
I had a lot of time to think.
"Is all of this a sign that he is too similar to me... to the way I was as a kid? Is he trying too hard to be cool and not having confidence in himself? Is he too sensitive, like his mama?"
My son does at times seem painfully conscious of what the other boys and girls around him are thinking. Even when he totally misjudges a situation, like today. Not dressing up because he was embarrassed and wanted to fit in... then angry because he didn't dress up when the other kids did.
Later though, I began to see everything from a different point of view.
"Maybe he really didn't want to dress up. In which case, he was going against the popular grain to stay in his normal clothes, rather than bowing to peer and parental pressure to put on pajamas! Maybe today was actually a sign of great confidence!"
Is my boy is just beating to his own drum - as he always has - or is he shying away from any potential embarrassment?
* * *
I learned something sad today. It really shames me to admit it, but here's the unvarnished truth:
Late this afternoon I realized that my six year old son views me as one of "them". As I tried to talk with him about feeling more confident in himself, he burst into tears.
"Your words make me feel BAD," he sobbed. "Whose side are you ON?"
To my immense regret, my boy apparently sees me as someone who judges him. He genuinely felt yesterday and today that we, his parents, were trying to turn him into somebody he's not.
This realization breaks my heart. From now on I need to work a lot harder to keep my mouth shut as he figures things out for himself socially... so that, no matter what, my boy knows without question that his father and I are his biggest fans.
If I'm not really conscious and careful about my role in his upbringing, I may unwittingly thrust my own adult perspectives upon him. My well-intentioned words may be hurtful to him. I may try to mold or shape him without even realizing.
I don't really want to change my son. He is incredible just the way he is. Every single unique trait, quality or quirk in that child is special to me.
I yearn badly to help him avoid my many mistakes. Sometimes this almost primal desire to protect him from awkwardness trips me up as a parent. I discover myself trying to make his choices for him, save him from what I perceive to be potential mistakes. Stop him from acting like me.
Parenting is tricky. I see all of my own challenges reflected right back at me in my children. They say the things you dislike the things in other people are the things you dislike the most in yourself. I don't dislike my son. I adore him. Parenting is just way more complicated than I ever imagined it to be.
I'm busy trying to better myself as a nearly-36 year old human being but I need to remember in the process to leave my 6 year old "mini-me" alone and let him work on himself, at his own pace. He's just a kid, trying to figure it out.
It's really time for me to step back. Way back.
My job as a parent is to protect my children from physical danger and provide them with a foundation of love. To keep those lines of communication open and build that sense of trust and mutual respect. Most importantly - I need to let my kids know that no matter what else happens - they will always have a mother who loves them for who they are.
I can't stop my kids from making mistakes, or from standing out right at the moment when they most ardently desire to fit in. I can't stop them from being socially awkward, shy and sensitive.
It isn't appropriate for me to try to navigate the complex social interactions of childhood and adolescence for my three favorite little people. Even if I wanted to, the world is different now than it was thirty years ago when I was six years old... and technology has made childhood different too.
No, I already have a role to fill - a crucial role - that I can't afford to get wrong.
I'm his mother. That makes me so lucky. I'm the one that gets to applaud and hug and remind him in his low moments why he is truly such an incredible human being.
I really screwed that up today.
To my son ~ I'm so sorry.
Whether I've shown it well or not I'm truly proud of you, just the way you are. I'll try a lot harder in the future. Please know that I'm one million percent on your side.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
I think it's fair and natural for mothers to dream about their children in the future and to harbor hopes for their lives.
That said, I don't want to become the kind of parent who lives through her children, a "stage mother" who attempts to mold my kids into the human being I always hoped to be.
For this reason, in these last few days of the year in which I've been writing, I am confiding into this 365 blog my hopes.
I'd rather write them all down quietly and let it go. I don't ever want to pressure my children to live the kind of life I have (or haven't) lived, or the life I'd wish for each of them.
Their lives are theirs! Win or lose, it's all about them.
So in my own quiet way, here are ten hopes I have for my own children:
10) I hope that my children will travel the world, much more than I have done. I hope they will see whole continents that I may never see - places like Africa, South America, Asia. There is great value in understanding how different people around our planet live. Creating friendships around the globe connects us powerfully to our shared (and different) values. I hope my three children will experience the wonders this beautiful Earth has to offer them.
9) I would love it if my children would give themselves the opportunity to grow a little, before they commit themselves financially to long-term debt. Since the age of 17 I have been saddled with significant debt in the way of school loans and later car loans... hopefully sometime soon even a house payment. Debt has a way of anchoring you to one place in life, to one geographic location. If my school loans hadn't come due six months after I graduated from college, I would probably have spent a few years seeing the world on a shoestring. That would have been fun.
8) I hope that my children will keep in close touch with each other as they grow and move forward into their own individual lives. The older I have grown, the more I have understood and deeply appreciated the value of family. I am closer to my siblings now than I've ever been. My children are so lucky to have siblings so near in age to each other... with only two years between them all (6, 4, 2). I hope that despite their present squabbles they learn along the way that the greatest gift in life a parent can give you, after their unconditional love, is a sibling.
7) I hope that my children will choose to have real weddings, whether in churches... on bluffs overlooking the ocean... bungee jumping, wherever. I hope they will understand (in a way that I definitely did NOT) that there is something sort of important about experiencing the traditions and conventions of society. I never had that white dress or walk down the aisle with my father. Looking back, especially given my father's Alzheimer's, I really wish I'd done those things.
I grew up thinking that elopements were the height of romance and that a wedding should really be about the two people getting married. In hindsight though, I realize that what makes a wedding truly special is being able to make those lifelong vows with the loving support of all of your family and friends beaming upon you. I hope my children will, on their own and without pressure from me, see value in sharing their sacred moments.
6) I hope that my three children will be more confident than I have been. I hope they will recognize from the get-go how special and amazing they all are, in their own unique ways. I hope they will value themselves too much to let others treat them badly. Once, a very right-wing Christian young man I'd been romantically entangled with during college snapped at me - "I hate myself for having used you, and I hate you for having let me do it." While his emotions might have been too volatile for the situation, what he said was eye-opening. I *did* let him walk all over me, and I hope my own children never allow others to do that to them.
5) I hope my children learn not to take for granted the relationship they have with their grandparents, us (their folks), their siblings or their friends. I took a lot of things for granted as a child and now it is too late to go back and re-do them. I rarely appreciated my father until it was too late, and his mind had begun to fail. I didn't recognize how special each of my close friends were until I'd lost one of them to cancer and leukemia. I didn't recognize how rare true love is until I had my heart soundly broken by someone I loved greatly. I hope it won't take loss for my own children to value the people and relationships in their lives.
4) It would be blessed if my children could lead healthy lives into their wise old age. Despite whatever genetic gifts I may have given them, in the way of genes predisposing them to autoimmunity, I do not believe their futures need to be dictated at all by health struggles or worries. Modern medicine, Chinese medicine, a healthy lifestyle with a good diet and moderation in their consumption of toxins like alcohol, sugar and carbohydrates... lots of exercise... sleep & maintaining a peaceful inner state. I believe all of these things can afford my kids extremely long and productive lives. I pray that they are wise enough to take advantage of the blessings of living in the 2000s when so many things can be healed and prevented.
3) I hope my children will find faith. At the age of nearly 36 I am still struggling to find peace in my heart with any faith. There are things I love about Unitarianism, Buddhism, Judaism and Protestantism. I still do not have a spiritual home, or a heart in alignment with any particular principle. The one thing I believe in is Love. "God is Love", I tell my children, "and love is all around you." I hope that my children will grow with a deeper sense of trust than I have done, less skepticism, and less of an intellectual questioning of matters that cannot be understood merely by the brain.
2) May my children be accepting, tolerant, compassionate people who embrace the differences that separate them from other human beings. May they strive to find commonalities with strangers, rather than focusing on the things that hold them apart. May they make many unexpected friends in their lives, and may they BE true friends to all who know them.
1) Lastly, I hope my children will proceed throughout their lives understanding the incredible value of honesty, integrity and loyalty. If there is one thing their father and I share more than anything, it is our deep core belief in living a life around these principles. We are people of our word, people that would move heaven and earth not to let others down. I hope my children will live by the "Golden Rule" and feel their own motivation to make decent, respectable choices. An honest life lived with integrity and loyalty - and love!!! - is the best thing I could hope for my kids.
* * *
To my kids, when you inevitably read this someday:
I love you. Whether you ultimately share my private hopes for your lives or not, I support each of you 1,000,000%. The three of you have already made the most cherished dream of my life come true.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
When we broke into small groups, each table was asked to speak about four questions.
At our table, the first discussion question was, "What do you hope to accomplish this holiday season?"
The seven ladies at our table looked expectantly at each other, smiling.
No-one made the first move to speak.
Shy by nature, I have trained myself over decades to summon the courage to pipe up at moments when I'd actually rather hide behind a book or flyer.
I learned in graduate school that if you are the first to speak, it breaks the ice and also allows you to speak less later on in the group discussion... having already participated in a visible way.
In a way, it's easier to go first than to add something after everyone else at the table has spoken.
So in my paradoxically bold-yet-shy way, I began to confide yesterday what I really hoped to accomplish with the holidays this year. The words sort of tumbled out.
"I wish," I began, "that I could create the holiday spirit in my own home like my own mother did for me when I was young.
My parents really made the holidays special, especially my mother. She loves giving more than anything... and as a child our house during the month of December was filled with so much love, cosiness and creativity. My mother was always baking, crafting, cooking and giving during the holiday season. I learned to love Christmas thanks to my mother. Our home at the holidays was always calm and peaceful, without any tension.
My home today, thirty years later," I added, "Is a totally different story. It is filled with chaos rather than Christmas carols. Always noisy, rarely tidy. My children have tantrums frequently and fight with each other. I haven't even begun our Christmas shopping yet, let alone any projects. It is nothing the way I remember holidays growing up, nothing close to what I wish holidays would be for my own children. I hope I will be able to create even a quarter of the joy of the season within my own family that my mother created for me."
The other women at my table responded with great kindness.
"I believe," said the mother immediately to my right, "that you are selling yourself short. Just by listening to you I believe that you are probably doing much more than you realize for your children."
"Honestly," said a grandmother sitting across from me, "Your childhood experience doesn't sound very normal. I think you are comparing yourself to something that isn't really typical. The home and family you have now sound a lot more like most families."
"I'll bet," said another mother, "that you probably just remember the good things from your childhood. I'm sure if you asked your mother about those same years, she would tell you that there were plenty of things that weren't perfect - just things a small child wouldn't have known about or noticed."
"You know," mused the woman to my left, "There are probably many things that you do differently and maybe even better than your own mother did them with you. It sounds like you are comparing yourself to her strengths, but instead maybe you should look at your own strengths. There are probably plenty of great things you do with your children that she never did with you."
Our conversation continued forward with other questions and other speakers, but this small exchange reveals a lot about why I love my church mother's group. I am really grateful for the feeling of community and "team" spirit there... the way in which I can arrive burdened and worried that I may be the worst mother in the world, and leave feeling uplifted and called to gratitude.
Since that chat, I've been mulling it over. What they said.
Do I have strengths that my mother didn't have?
What are the things that I do well as a mom, that I'm proud of? What do I bring to the table that works?
Maybe these are questions that every woman asks herself after becoming a mother.
Traditionally it has always been hard for me to identify my strengths, especially as a parent. It is common knowledge among my close family and friends that I am very hard on myself, and frequently struggle against the vague feeling that I am in some way failing.
When my daughter ingested about 90 vitamin B-12 pills, for example... or when she took a massive tumble off the top row of an auditorium of stadium seats last weekend and tumbled not one - but TWO - rows down landing hard on the concrete...
At those moments, which occur far too frequently, I cannot help hating myself a little. I can tell you in all honesty that as I screamed and leapt for my child - yet did not manage to catch her - I experienced the powerful fear that she might have a terrible injury and it was all my fault for not being a better mother.
"If only I'd held onto her more closely, if only I'd never taken her to see this stupid penguin movie at all!"
Even when she manages to pull through and run around cheerily after these kinds of events, it takes me a long time to get over them.
* * *
But I digress.
My challenge is to do what my church mother's group suggested - look for the positive traits in myself and discover the ways in which - albeit differently from my own mother - I too bring special gifts to my kids.
I think this is a useful exercise, and maybe something that *all* mothers should do from time to time... take stock of what they are proud of and what they are doing well.
It took me a long time to come up with a list of things I do that my mother did not do with me... things that I am happy to give my children. (I was lucky enough to have such a great mother that there are very few things she didn't do for me.) Here though, is my list:
What I Bring As A Mother
- Sometimes when music is playing in the grocery store, I spontaneously dance and sing with my kids in the aisles... in a very undignified and highly goofy way. I'm glad I can let loose with my kids and show them the lighter sides of life.
- I have done a lot of volunteering in my kids' classrooms already, and plan to do a lot more. This is something I did not experience as a child.
- My husband and I take our kids out into nature to go hiking, biking and playing. I didn't get much time in nature as a kid, other than my own back yard or the beach. I'm glad that we take our kids to the mountains. I'm glad my boys have already camped with their dad in the back yard by the ages of 6 and 4.
- In our house, the 5 second rule is valid and ~ much to my mother's dismay ~ we often let our children eat food they have accidentally dropped on the floor at our house. My husband and I share the belief that modern society is over-sanitized, contributing to the growing number of autoimmune problems including allergies and asthma that children face today. We believe a little dirt is good for you. I grew up in a home that was pretty much always sparkling clean... and just look at where my immune system is today. Hmmmmm.
- My children have siblings close in age! Growing up, I would have killed for a brother or sister close to my own age. I tried to pretend that the ten years between my nearest sibling and me was not very long... but in the end, there is a huge difference between 10 and 20, or 16 and 26. My childhood was very lonely a lot of the time and I had so much jealousy toward my friends with brothers and sisters near our age. They always seemed so close, even when they were fighting. I always loved my four much-older siblings but I really wished I had someone to hang out with at home with my folks.
- I talk with my kids in a very honest, profound way about our family life. We've already had the "talk" about how babies are made (we got as far as the boy has a seed and the girl has an egg, and together the seed and the egg make a baby)... something I didn't learn about until the age of 10 or 11. We've also talked through the glitches that arise now and then in our family relationships, and even discussed at length our personal strengths, fears and deeper beliefs with our kids (using child appropriate words). I value that we are a family that talks about things, as I grew up in a home where serious talking was done behind closed doors.
- My sons play soccer, something I would have loved to have done as a little girl. It's awesome. I have been so proud and impressed... so happy for them as they learn teamwork, confidence and determination. It is important to me to give my children the experiences I missed out on as a kid: team sports, youth group, families that hang out together and kids that grow up together.
- We are a family that openly embraces gay marriage, setting a tone that tells our children when they grow up they can marry anyone they truly love (of either gender) who treats them well. The first wedding my sons attended in their young lives was that of my brother and his husband. It was a beautiful day, a stunning wedding, and the perfect first experience of "marriage" for our kids to see. I value that my children are growing up in a household where no matter what their ultimate orientation, they will feel loved and appreciated for who they are.
- Every day I give my children the example of a woman who is brave and capable enough to take care of things by herself. Whether I'm out cutting down tree branches, killing widow spiders, plunging the toilet or washing the car, I'm a confident and proactive woman without the patience to wait around until a man can take care of things for me. My father was way over-protective of my mother and in the house where I grew up, she was not allowed to drive after dark by herself. I chose to marry a man who - for better and worse - sees me as his equal (capable of doing everything he can and more) which pushes me to grow stronger every day. His question, "Why can't *you* do it?" over 10 years has caused me to realize that happily, I CAN.
- I've taught our kids about saving money from a young age. I bought all of them piggy banks and every time they do a chore for me they are obliged to bank their money to save for something special that they really covet. My eldest son has now finally earned enough money to buy himself the remote control car he has wanted for about four months. Even his baby sister gets excited about earning pennies for her "piggy piggy". I wish my folks had been economically savvy to teach me about saving when I was a little kid. If I had understood debt and finances better, I might have spent the $125,000.00 from my college education on buying a little house at the age of 18... which would, ten years later, have been worth many times the investment. I think I could have gotten a great education at a state school and ended up a lot more financially solvent. Instead, I accrued a ton of debt and will now be paying off my degrees until I'm 65 or so.
- My husband and I give our kids a carefree, creative, relaxed growing environment. When I was a kid my dad used to shake his head in dismay at the mess in my bedroom... as compared to the rest of their pristine house. "How will you ever have a gentleman caller when you get older if you live like this! You're going to have to learn how to keep things cleaner." Ironically (but also happily) I fell in love with a man who tolerate mess very well and is arguably as messy as I am... although in different ways. Our home is very rarely clean, even though I devote many, many hours to cleaning and laundry during the week. Our children are thus comfortable in chaos and not uptight about keeping things perfect. This is probably a good thing in the long run.
* * *
Diving into this holiday season, it's nice to remember that though I won't ever be my own amazing mother ~ I'm still a devoted and sincere mother. I love my kids just as vastly as my own parents loved me.