Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Christmas Gift to You, Mudders.---A Reminder to Move.

I'll start with one of my favorite quotes on motherhood penned by Robert James Waller in his stunning book Bridges of Madison County.  "When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops. You build a life of details. You become a mother, a wife and you stop and stay steady so that your children can move. And when they leave they take your life of details with them. And then you're expected move again only you don't remember what moves you because no-one has asked in so long. Not even yourself."

Bear with me...I'll get to the quote...

My friend leads a full life.  She is one of those moms that I envy.  The role of mother seems to fit her like a glove.  (With the help of her husband) she seems to always make the correct choices for her family and it shows.  Her kids are consistently on the honor roll. They are polite and kind--you know--right out of Leave It To Beaver or Little House on the Prairie, the kind of kids every mom dreams that her own children will turn out to be. This friend, let's call her Superwoman, has a large posse of women that she calls her own.  She has received laudation after laudation in her career.  Her cooking rivals Rachel Ray.  She is the quintessential sports mother cheering for her daughter and son at their year round sporting events.  Superwoman even chairs charity events while taking classes to get her counseling license.  All of this she does at the perfect temperature never burning out or freezing up.

That is why I was so surprised when during a phone call last week she happened to mention that with all that she does, (as fulfilling as it may be) she just needed something for herself.    As I listened intently (something I try hard to do because along with EVERYTHING else she is good at, she is also an extraordinary ear when you need to sound off.) she began to muse about activities and skills she wanted to acquire just because...well...just because she WANTED to.  I did and said all the things that a friend of 36 years would and should do and say, agreeing with her that cooking classes would  be a perfect avenue for her to follow, (eating her meals is one of life's pleasures.)  But what I didn't do, what I couldn't say to her (after all the phone conversation wasn't about me) is that at the other end of the phone I was choking back tears.

It was an interesting phenomenon and one I had to analyze.  At first I couldn't quite put my finger on the reason for my tears.  But as I stood outside myself and observed with the clarity of a scientist I realized that there were many reasons for the drops on my cheeks and the quiver in my chin, the biggest one being that despite having it so together, this mom, this mom who happened to be one of my best friends experienced the same longing for independence or MOMENTS of independence as I did.  This yearning to be me without the mom label has plagued me with guilt and therefore the urge has been pushed aside more often then indulged.  Yet here was my definition of a truly salt of the earth mother wanting the same thing, and well...that made my yearning for fulfillment outside of being a mom legitimate.

We try hard, don't we Mudders?  We toil away to be the hub of a wheel holding tightly to the many spokes of motherhood.  We remain in one place while school work, and meals, doctor's appointments, the rolling eyes of a teen, the tantrum of a toddler, our careers, and our husbands spin around us using our stationary status as support.  Sometimes the spinning makes us dizzy.  Sometimes the wheel squeaks and needs grease.  Sometimes the pull of so many spokes weighs us down and our strength wanes. But we smile even though we're sad so our children aren't scared.  We learn to listen intently even though the pressures of our role may be screaming in our ears.  We get used to blank stares when we request help and stomach the fact that ultimately who we are is invisible to our children who look at us (especially when they are older) as mere cash machines, taxi drivers and good old fashioned nags.  Through it all, we stay steady, unmoveable so our children and loved ones can move.

Which of course brings me to the quote with which I began this post.  Although I read the book several times, it was when Meryl Streep playing the role of Francesca,  uttered the quote so passionately to her lover, Robert, in the movie of the same name, did I weep with  fervent agreement.  If we are not careful Mudders, if we remain the steady hub of a steel wheel, we will forget what moves us...what moved us BEFORE we were mothers.  If our role as "mama" encompasses entirely our very being then who will we be when our children leave and our role is diminished?  What does it teach our children if we don't think of ourselves every once in awhile?   As Francesca says so adeptly in Bridges, when we are able to move again, to shed the hub status, we won't remember what moved us if we lose ourselves in this complicated albeit wonderful parenting process.  After all how long has it been since you've thought about what moves you Mudders?  How long has it been since any one asked?

Well Mudders, I'm asking.  What moves you?  What are your life dreams besides the well being of your children?  This holiday season give yourself a truly priceless gift will you?  Not only do I want you to think about the answers to these questions, I want you to find a way in the next year to begin to fulfill some of those dreams and wishes.  Let us not get so bogged down in our life of detail that we are unable to move.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Homework--'Nuff Said.

Regrets...I've had a few....All right...I mean come on, let's be real.  I am forty one.  There are more than just a FEW regrets.  Oh...now...stop tsk tsking...We all have those moments that we wish we could do over in a different way.  Some are bigger than others.  Some aren't worth the thought.  Some are always with us and will be until we are old and gray.  My list is lengthy.  Some of the ruefulness is what you'd expect...the angst that comes from being young...and stupid.  You know what I mean.  Like--I wish I had the chutzpah to tell my prom date that our strong friendship had become so much more--to me.  Instead, for the next month I tear-soaked my diary lamenting his prom night hook up with my mortal enemy.  I wish that I wasn't a shallow teen consumed with popularity forsaking-- even down right humiliating--those who weren't part of the crowd I deemed important.  I wish I valued my education and wasn't embarrassed by my intelligence, dumbing myself down to attract the "right" kind of boy.  (Those of you who know me....pun intended.) I wish I was more independent.  Being alone, even for the smallest amount of time feels scary to me.  Seems kind of weak if you ask me.   I wish I hadn't felt a compulsion to grow up so fast, and that I experienced the world in all the ways that a 20-something experiences it when not married and a parent of two young children.  Not that I regret having my boys.  No.  The way I see it, they are the REASONS for my twenties.  However, an abundance of my regrets are ABOUT my boys or how I parented them.  One of the biggest regrets when it comes to them has to be the GINORMOUS mistakes I made pertaining to homework.   Uh....cue the foreboding music please.  Ah yes, homework.  The bane of any parents' existence.

Mistake number one: My belief that the boys DESERVED a break when they got home.  And by break I mean playing video games, watching TV, chatting on Facebook, etc.  I no longer hold this idea to be true.  Here's why;  I think it would have been much more effective to teach the boys that homework was their job or responsibility and that free time and recreation come only after their responsibilities were fulfilled.  Hear me out on this one.  In REAL life we work.  We come home to more work.  We cook.  We load the dishwasher.  We run errands.  We read to our children.  We sweep the floor.  And it is only when all the work is done do we sit and watch Grey's Anatomy with our box of tissues perched on our knees.  It is only when our responsibilities are complete do we check our Facebook page to play a game of Christmas Crunch (my guilty pleasure!)  By teaching the boys from a young age that old adage "business before pleasure"  I believe that we would have avoided so much drama.  If I hadn't set up from the beginning that they were "entitled" to that all powerful fun before homework, I am sure there would have been a lot less of me screaming phrases like, "I DON'T CARE HOW MANY MORE LEVELS YOU NEED BEFORE YOU CAN SAVE THE GAME...IT IS TIME TO DO YOUR HOMEWORK."  or "NOOOOO YOU CAN NOT WATCH ANOTHER EPISODE OF FAMILY GUY.  I DON'T CARE IF IT IS A NEW ONE.  IT IS TIME TO DO YOUR HOMEWORK!"   Rule number one to try this time around with Ila:  Work comes first.  Play comes next.  That's the norm.  (I'll let you know in fifteen years if that works out!)

Mistake Number 2:  Lamenting along with the boys the pitfalls of homework.  I can't tell you how many times the boys asked for my help with homework that I inadvertently rolled my eyes at a seemingly ludicrous or laborious assignment.  Then of course there were the times that I put to words my disdain for homework saying, "I know homework is boring, (or hard, or stupid) but you HAVE to do it." Yeah...I know...I should never try to sell a product.  Pretty great mom huh?  Feeding right into the "why-do-I-have-to-do-this-crap attitude that my boys had. My consistent message?  "Yeah.  You are correct.  Homework bites.  Just suck it up and do it."  Rule number two to try this time around with Ila-sell the virtues of a job well done.  Push pride. Hold dear the importance of trying your hardest and completing a task.  How does that song go?  "You've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative...."  (I'll let you know in 15 years if rule number two works out!)

Mistake Number 3:  Coming to the rescue every time an "oh-my-gosh-I-didn't-finish-my-project-that-I-had-four-weeks-to-do-and-it's-due-tomorrow!" happened at 9:00 at night.  I mean don't get me wrong the first time it happens...okay...any mom would help out by running to Walmart to get bow tie noodles, pipe cleaners, water color paints, and red cellophane.  The first time it happens any mom would sit at the kitchen table meticulously gluing over 100 bow tie pastas to the various colored pipe cleaners until her fingers cramped.  But the second, third, fourth and even fifth time, it would have been smarter to let. my. precious. babies. hang.  Sound harsh?  Let me explain.  It is just in the past few years that I learned the valuable lesson that logical annoying irritating consequences can sometimes...maybe most times..be more effective than artificial consequences that we place on our children.  For instance, I no longer fight with my kids about wearing coats.  When they don't have coats on and it happens to rain, the long walk home or to Grandma's will be wet, cold and miserable.  Next time they will wear a coat.  The same goes for unfinished homework.  Sparing my boys from the glowering disappointment of their teachers didn't do them any good.  It would have been better for them to be a little uncomfortable from time to time, especially if their decisions warrant the discomfort.  Discomfort is by nature...well....not fun, and had I let them suffer (I know this SOUNDS harsh) they may have developed habits that were more organized and diligent.  Instead they rely on mom to save them.  Rule number three to try this time around with Ila-let her suffer the natural consequences of not doing homework.  Instead of rescuing her each time, I'll try to help her find ways of being organized so that she is equipped with the tools to avoid the "oops I forgot my homework" syndrome.  (Again, and for a final time, I shall let you know in 15 years whether or not this works!)

Victoria Holt once said, "Never regret.  If it's good, it's wonderful.  If it's bad--it's experience."  I am lucky to be able to use my regrets as experience to mother Ila in a different way.  Lots of moms don't get another chance to do it all over again more than a decade later.  But do a girl a favor...don't make me wait for 15 years to see if my homework hypotheses are correct.  Let me know what YOU think by commenting below!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It is Thanksgiving and I'm taking a break from writing this week.  But my friend sent me this wonderful essay on motherhood today and I thought, "What a gift this is for any mother."  And since, dear readers this is the week to give thanks, I'd like to exuberantly give my heartiest appreciation to you all who read and comment and support my writing.  I am so grateful for you.  Your readership, wisdom, and wonderful friendship warms my soul and helps this sticky road called "motherhood" feel a little less lonely.  So please accept the following essay as a token of my thanks to all of my Mudders.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Invisible Mother.....By Anonymous

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?'
Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible.. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more! Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this??
Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.'
Some days I'm a crystal ball; 'Where's my other sock?, Where's my phone?, What's for dinner?'
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history, music and literature -but now, they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going, she's going, she's gone!?
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England . She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when she turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.' It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe .

I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: 'With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.' In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: 1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names. 2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. 3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. 4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw
A story of legend in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof, No one will ever see it And the workman replied, Because God sees.'

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does.
No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, no Cub Scout meeting, no last minute errand is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.
I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.
When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for 3 hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, he'd say, 'You're gonna love it there...'
As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.
Share this with all the Invisible Moms you know... I just did.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tradition! Tradition....Tradition! (Think Fiddler on the Roof)

We stripped Ila down to just her diaper and plopped her in the middle of the dining room table.  Aidan sat at one end, his eyebrows furrowed paging through the Jack-o-lantern pattern book trying to decide on just the right one to carve into his pumpkin.  "They have some new patterns this year mom."  he said excitedly.  "But I am not sure I want to do one that is difficult.  Which one are you choosing for Ila's pumpkin?"  I answered, "Oh something easy.  We won't keep her attention long."  While Aidan and I decided on simple faces, Jeff cut off the tops and then he and Aidan began scraping and emptying the contents of the pumpkins.  They each delighted Ila by dropping the ooey gooey innards all around her on the table.  She grabbed them with her chubby hands, squeezed them through her fingers, and yes, ate quite a bit as well (much to her mother's chagrin and father's delight!)  We all giggled when Ila curiously peered into the hollowed out gourd.  And when she looked up at her father quizzically and asked, "W'sat Da Da?  W'sat?"  we all answered in unison, "That's a pumpkin Ila!"  When time came to light up the jack-o-lanterns, we took them out into the dark night and placed them on the front porch.  At the sight of their glowing faces Ila's squeal was so high pitched that we were sure we heard dogs start to howl in the next neighborhood over. We each took turns taking pictures with the finished products basking in the Jack-o-lanterns' light, smiling from ear to ear as the trials and tribulations of the week seemed to get swallowed up into the darkness beyond our front porch.

For 16 years, (Yikes! 16 years!) this Halloween tradition has been played out--albeit in many different ways--but played out none the less.  When life changed around us and within us, whether it be the boys' dad not living in our home anymore, the presence of a new man in our lives, friends coming, friends going, scary medical problems, new siblings, the tradition of jack-o-lantern carving has held constant, comforting us with its presence every week before October 31st.  And isn't that what traditions are supposed to be?  Family traditions are a reliable presence in our lives that help define who we are and what we value. Traditions are steadies in a world where "change" seems to be the only OTHER constant. 

At this time of year traditions seem especially prevalent in our household.   It starts with the jack-o-lantern but as autumn turns its face to November and then December my children, my husband and I look forward to the things that makes this season...well...predictable, comfortable, familial, and special.  Each tradition--whether large or small--is utterly essential.

Music starts my family on the right foot when it comes to the holiday season.  Christmas music--to be exact-- is a large part of our holiday traditions.  Every year on November 1st you can find me in the kitchen cooking dinner with John Denver and The Muppets blaring from my I-Home.  Their A Christmas Together album has been a tradition since I was 8 years old.  The songs define the holiday for me.  It wouldn't be Christmas without Miss Piggy warbling "Christmas is Coming," or John Denver singing "A Carol For Christmas" sweetly and serenely after reciting the poem "Alfie the Christmas Tree."   It is so popular with my sons that it is the cd that is most requested when opening presents on Christmas morn or driving in the car to shop for gifts.  A little tradition that I do for myself is to buy new Christmas music every November 1st to add to my comprehensive library.  However, when it comes right down to it, without the oldest cd's Christmas couldn't happen in my house...probably wouldn't happen in my house without the familiar melodies that remind us of all the Christmases that came before.  Music--a tradition that sings us into the new year. 

One of my favorite traditional outings this time of year HAS to be the Fisher's Thanksgiving get together.  For those of you that don't know, my husband is one of ten brothers...(yes I said TEN boys.  Shouldn't THAT Mrs. Fisher be writing a blog too???)  My sister-in-law, Sandy, is brave enough to hold Thanksgiving at her house.  She tends to be the glue that holds the entire family together.  In a way, Thanksgiving at her house is a manifest of her--welcoming and warm, full of happiness and smiles.  But that holiday gathering is also a manifest of the Fisher clan itself; always raucous, laughter shaking the rafters, conversation ringing from every corner of Sandy's elegant house.  There isn't any POSSIBLE way not to feel like you belong to something special when that family (that family????) No, MY family gathers together to celebrate another year, another child, another grateful meal.  My boys and Ila are blessed to be part of it.  Thanksgiving at the Fisher's--a tradition that provides warmth in the cold month of November. 

Family traditions can cut through strife and worry.  Last year after being diagnosed with a heart condition, I have to admit that I didn't have the energy to fulfill many of our holiday rituals.  But the way that my boys counted on and pleaded for the continuation of our holiday traditions was evidence of the fibrous strength they had woven throughout their very beings.  That was clearly evident last year when Gannan, then 13, and perhaps past the age of admitting that all things Christmas was cool, gently asked me if my heart condition would stop us from traveling to our favorite tree farm to cut our Christmas tree down.  You see, it was his turn to use the saw.  He carried that knowledge with him for a year....looking forward to his chance to be the one who caused us all to cheer and whoop a hearty "HUZZAH!" when at last the tree that was meticulously chosen landed with a thump on the soft snow.  That gentle pleading, the hopeful look in his eyes, made me realize how very vital for our family our traditions were, that those annual moments both large and small were absolutely positively fundamental and part of the definition of what family was to my sons.

It isn't difficult to establish traditions.  In fact it doesn't take much more than doing something two years in a row for your children to consider it a "must-do" every year.  What's more, I think that a year of great change is the perfect time to start a new tradition, especially one that takes family togetherness.  My boys favorite traditions were started just a few years ago when what we usually did on Christmas Eve came to an end for reasons beyond our control.  Instead of wallowing in sadness and loss, we instead brainstormed new traditions.  That was the year that we decided that the boys would be the ones to plan the menu and cook on Christmas Eve and Christmas.  Jeff and I help them by following their instructions to a tee (after all, they are in charge) and I am happy to say that our holiday meals have been scrumptious, decadent creations since we started this tradition.  Each year is a new recipe and another chance for us to bond as a family.

Just two years ago, Jeff and I thought that the years of traveling to Albany to drive through Washington Park's Holiday Lights in the Park with the boys oooing and ahhing in the back seat would soon be over.  We thought that in the near future we'd be sitting at some restaurant on Christmas while the boys went to their girlfriends' homes to celebrate with members of someone else's family.  But, miracles happen, and we have been blessed with Ila and a chance to not only extend the time spent on our old family traditions, but time to establish new ones with her and for her.  And dear readers, I would love your help in doing that!  Please share with me your holiday traditions so that they might become ones that Ila experiences someday!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Le Petit Bonheur (The Little Happiness)

"Cultivate le petit bonheur (the little happiness) until courage returns. Look forward to the beauty of the next moment, the next hour, the promise of a good meal, sleep, a book, a movie, the likelihood that tonight the stars will shine and tomorrow the sun will shine. Sink roots into the present until the strength grows to think about tomorrow.”
Ardis Whitman

These past two weeks this quote and I have been intimately connected.  Written on a piece of scrap paper it has sat on the bathroom sink and waited for me to finish my shower.  It tarried patiently on my vanity as I straightened my unruly long hair.  It has been wrinkled and smushed into my sensible teaching slacks waiting for my hand to grasp it, grip it, crinkle it in my white knuckled fist when desperate thoughts wove within my daily routine; in between my reading lessons and correcting spelling tests, when walking down a quiet hall or standing robot-like waiting for the copier to finish spitting out the day's assignments.

It's that french phrase that makes the quote stand out for me:  Le petit bonheur--small moments of happiness.  Such a simple but profound idea and one I am sure we could all lean on every once in awhile.  When the thought of tomorrow is worrisome and heavy--concentrate instead on what is good and satisfying even if it is small.  It is the precious present that will get you through until you feel strong enough to tackle the "unknown tomorrows" that we all have.      

So that's what I did this week. I marked, noticed and counted my petit bonheur, and if you'll indulge me, I'd like to share with you some of the happiest moments if not only to remind myself of the joie de vivre, but also perhaps to help someone else who may be in the "deep downs" find some light even in what seems the blackest of times.   

Ma Petit Bonheur

1.  Ila has taken to imitating a rabbit when the bunny picture shows up in her favorite book.  It is the most precious thing I have ever witnessed.  Her chubby cheeks move up and down  in tandem with her rosy pink nose and her eyes get squinty.  Le Petit Bonheur...

2.  This weekend my sixteen year old asked...I repeat....ASKED to accompany us on a shopping trip to The Christmas Tree Shop.  He sat in the backseat with Ila, sang Sesame Street Songs with her and had several easy conversations with us about school, about Christmas, about his future.  

3.  The same 16 year old told me last week that our house was "a home"...a home.  Two words never sounded so good.

4.  The crock pot...YES I said the crock pot.  DEFINITELY a petit bonheur.  Especially when my hubby uses it.  This past week I feasted on spaghetti  with homemade sauce and meatballs the size of baseballs.  I came home today to the creamiest cheesiest potato and ham soup that the world has ever eaten.  It was paired with thick slabs of farmer's wheat bread that he grilled with cheddar cheese; a perfect meal for a rainy fall night--Yes?  Le petit bonheur!

5.  Then of course there is bath time with Ila.  There are SO many petit bonheurs during this daily 15 minutes I am not sure I even know where to start.  How about that Buddha belly so full after a delicious crock pot dinner.  Before putting her into the warm bath water there's nothing like the squealing giggles she lets loose when I blow raspberries on that sweet round tummy...le petit bonheur.  Each night she does this incredibly endearing thing where she grabs her rubber ducky, points her chubby finger at me and grunts.  This is my music cue and at that moment I begin my rendition of "Rubber Ducky," my voice echoing off the white tiled wall.  She leans against the back of the tub and twirls her yellow duck interjecting her rudimentary language where she can.  But the happiest part of the bath has to be towel time.  Wrapping her in that purple heavy cotton "princess" towel with a crown for the hood, she squirms and wriggles happily in my arms.  The warmth of her body seeps through the towel right into my soul.  I put my nose on the top of her wet hair and breath in deeeeeeply.  When drying her off on the bathroom sink's counter I kiss her shoulders, her round knees, the bottoms of her tiny feet, her hands and right on up her arms to her arm pits--all with no resistance ( a rare moment!)  She anticipates this routine sitting mesmerized with each kiss and then bursts out into her heartiest belly laugh when her arms get kissed. That delightful sound floats up out of her mouth into the steamy bathroom and strokes my cheek like a soothing hand.  Best of all, she'll snuggle into the crook of my neck all the way down the hall to her room.  I almost hate to put her down on her changing table.  Bath time...le petit bonheur.

6.  Le petit bonheur, a small happiness, doesn't seem to fit this next one.  I mean my Facebook friend, Suz, must have the most giant personality that the world has ever experienced.   I am not sure if she knows of the jovialities and super smiles she spreads throughout the world of Facebook.  To those who don't know her or have never read her statuses, I call her the female Robin Williams.  This woman is freaking hilarious.  During one teary wallowing moment, I turned on my computer to read this status posted by my friend, " So I'm checking out at the grocery and the comedian/cashier dude holds up the 2 pack of dog bones and asks, "for your husband?"  I replied, "well, he gets bored when he's in the dog house...plus it gives him clean breath."Or how about this one "So. my 17 year old big dude is trying to pick a 'sexy' name for his car.  hubby has googled 'sexy names' and is reading htem off in a strange(ie. sultry) voice.  we're actually having a debate in the kitchen over this.  seriously.  ::eyeroll:: " --If you ever need a moment of laughter be sure to visit her world at suzpatrick.blogspot.com!  

And now for some truly tiny petit bonheur!

A.  Palmer's Cocoa Butter Oil massaged into my tired feet at the end of the day.
B.  A husband who knows that talk is cheap but massaging my feet is PRICELESS.
C.  A full tank of gas when I am in a hurry.
D.  A call out of the blue that showers me with understanding and advice from a best friend in Tampa.
E.  Grape infused vodka, Dole All Natural Pink Lemonade, Perrier...together....yum!
F.  Nestle's Tollhouse Ice Cream Sandwiches...nothing else to say about THAT one!
G.  The Sunday NY Times Book Review.
H.  A virtual trip to Amazon.com after reading the book review.  This week I bought --To the End of the Land by David Grossman.  Each day I look forward to a jaunt to the mailbox to pick up a prized possession--a book and devour its words.

Le petit bonheur.  Le petit bonheur.  Le petit bonheur.  Look for it.  Listen to it.  Learn from it.  Love it.  I guarantee that those small happinesses will add up to Le Grand Bonheur--a great big ginormous contentment-- that outshines those scary tomorrows and gives us palpable energy we need to take us forward. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

So Many Ways to Speak of a Broken Heart

I have avoided writing my blog this week, regretting that promise to be brutally honest.  Only having one thing that I should really discuss...having one thing on my mind, in my heart...on my heavy mind, in my broken heart.  However, coincidentally, writing it would mean opening that figurative garage door that I just happened to pen about two weeks ago.  All week I kept thinking that writing this blog would mean that I'd have to speak about things that up until now had never been spoken of except to a few very supportive, very sturdy, non-judgmental women in my life.  So it is with tentative key strokes that I write this post.  Here goes...

Gannan went to live with his dad last week.  It was his choice.  He wanted to move out, wanted to leave.  All week my thoughts have been jumbled and broken, my feelings mixed and shaken.  There are so many ways, different angles, I could talk about what happened, so many lenses to look through.  The question which is the right lens for the blog?

I could postulate on the downfalls of contentious divorces and their effect on children. In that kind of post I would beg the members of divorce to work together for the sake of their children and not use them to get back at an ex spouse. I'd need to remind them that what they say about the other parent may be believed by a child at a moment when it wasn't best for the child.  And although that may make the member feel gleeful and vindicated, where does it leave the child?  If I chose to write about Gannan's leaving in terms of divorce I would have to include a discussion about how the rules of one house cannot possibly hold water if the other house doesn't fully support them.  I would have to discuss the brain of an adolescent and how any 14 year old would OF COURSE choose to live at the house of least resistance, the house without expectations, the house where the very type of egotistical adolescent thinking is supported by a willing parent.

And yet, this post could be written in so many other ways.  I could ruminate on how the old "sticks and stones" saying is WRONG and words do cut right through you especially when said by a son or daughter. In that kind of post I would talk about how the most decisive mother can be easily turned into a vat of indecision when her choices, her words, done and said for the good of her children, make them loathe her...even for the briefest moment.  It would discuss the virtues and downfalls of having specific expectations for your children, and how inevitably who they become, what they choose, is up to them.  That kind of post would include how sad it makes a mother to watch her child struggle with wrong and right, and in the end make a choice that is detrimental to him or her.  It would end with a description of the excruciating pain a mother experiences having to stand aside and watch a child learn the hard way.

Then again, an even more difficult (and maybe more controversial) blog post would be a discussion of  the indignation moms sometimes feel.  I may carefully admit to occasionally being tired of the challenges mothers face.  I'd marvel at strong women who have equally challenging children who seem to get it right all the time.  I may ruminate on the impossibility of being "on" all the time, and the guilt mothers feel when wanting, needing a break.  I may even admit that I know some moms including me who when dealing with a sassy centric adolescent think to themselves or even say out loud (even though it isn't politically correct) "After all I have done...how dare you!"

Of course there is always the more satisfying, perhaps easier angle, speaking about the incredibly supportive women I have in my life.  In this kind of post I'd talk about how ALL mothers need a posse to surround them.  Not a "yes ma'am" posse, but a group who tells you like it is each time you come to them to sound off or for advice.  To have this kind of posse means that when you make wrong decisions, you'll know it and when your decisions are ones that they themselves would make you'll know that too.  Maybe while penning this post I'd tell you specifically about some of my posse members.  First, I'd introduce you to the J's...Jeanne and Janel.  These ladies are my sounding boards for different reasons, but both essential in my life no less.  Their no nonsense manner and logical thinking help to buffer my tendencies to react emotionally.  If I decided to stick with the specific I'd tell you about the day after Gannan left.  I'd let you in on the sheer and agonizing pain I was feeling and how one sentence from them...one specific sentence that they both uttered let me off the hook just a little, alleviated my guilt and anguish just enough to get me through the rest of the day.  I'd also tell you about Mindy who lets me be my emotional reactive self.  She probably has no idea how her kind phrase, "of course you are angry" made me feel a little less crazy--a little more sane that awful day after Gannan left.  After all, someone in the universe understood why the anger was eating me alive.   There are so many others I could tell you about but my posse wouldn't be complete without a mention of my sunshiney sister, Lanni, who mercifully but firmly works against my doomsday thoughts to remind me of the positives and the possibilities, guiding me away from the blackness into the light.

I could speak in specific terms about the ugly scene that took place here.  I could be really brave and admit to my readers how I lost my ever lovin' mind and sunk to 14 year old's fight level. If I really wanted to bare my soul, I'd get more detailed and tell you about the tug of war I had with Gannan...over a comforter...his comforter.   I would tell you about the rage that took over every fiber of me when he used words as daggers knowing exactly what to say to tear me to shreds.  I'd share the raw minutia of the car ride to his father's where he spewed on and on about how "he and his dad" felt about me.  I'd cry as I wrote about how that alliance-whether in the moment or real and true-felt like a stinging slap in my face.  But I'd also include a shaky-heart-in-my-throat discussion about the unbearable missing-him feeling I get in the quiet of the night, a feeling like a death, an empty hole in the deepest part of me.  I'd divulge that I haven't slept more than a few hours since he left, lying awake wondering if he missed us, or his beloved little sister.  If he felt any regret...any remorse, and wondering about the moment we'd be together again.

Yes, there are many ways that I could write this post.  However while contemplating which angle I would write about Gannan's leaving each way seemed to have it's own merits.  Each way seemed utterly important to my weary mind.  "Why not write about it all?"  whispered the writer in me.  And so dear readers, that is just what I did.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

PSSST! Your Garage Door is Open...

From the front of my house, sitting in my driveway--say in a car--my garage looks like any other garage.  Two sets of three paneled framed squares, one row sitting on top of the other, above that, three rectangular windows, (perhaps a little dirty), paint flecked by rain, wind, weather and wear, but an ordinary garage no less. 

However if you were inside standing under the complicated mechanism that automatically pulls up and lowers the heavy door-you would notice that the inner workings are damaged.  The chain that once lined the intricate pulley system dangles dangerously.  The frame that houses the thick cables shakes and rattles, and is precariously connected to the walls and ceiling.  The plastic encased motor chokes and sputters.  Truth be told, the automatic garage system is in such disrepair that we have been unable to use it for over a year, and in the spirit of full disclosure you can't even open our garage door the old fashioned way.  It refuses to stay up on its own and will violently slam down if no one holds it.  It actually once snapped a two by four in half that my husband had used to prop it up in order to sweep out debris last spring.   Yet not a person driving by our home would know any of this unless they were allowed inside.  Even then they might not realize that the garage was broken unless they pushed the absolutely ineffective button that is supposed to raise and lower it.

Where am I going with this?  Good question.  Where AM I going with this?  This afternoon when I drove up my driveway and parked in front of the debunked garage I was feeling a little overwhelmed, a little haggard, a little on the edge, and it dawned on me that my garage was very much like me, and many other moms (and dads) that I know.  Our facade is strong.  The face we show to the public is together.  We're perhaps a little older but we dress for success, speak the language of sanity, laugh when others around us laugh, and lend a hand when needed.  We are serious about our careers, take the kids to the doctors, buy nutritious groceries, cheer at sporting events and wave hello and good bye to acquaintances.  We try our best to blend in, to keep the waters smooth, to look like--well--an ordinary garage door.  On the outside we are cool customers...on the outside.

But then there's the inside, the part of our lives that only a few are privy to.   Away from the eyes of the public we might find that our complicated mechanisms, our inner workings, are damaged.  Our chains may be dangling (some lower than others...sigh.)  Our frames may be precariously connected.  Our motors might be coughing and sputtering.  We may even have moments in which we need to be propped up by the support of our loved ones.  If that doesn't happen we could violently crash--breaking two by fours in our wake.  Gratefully, we are relieved that these malfunctions of humanity can remain hidden so that the public-at-large knows us only by what we allow them to see. 

But how would we all feel if those damaged inner workings were somehow exposed to the prying eyes of the public?  Recently our small community has had an inordinate amount of what the gossip mill would call "scandalous behavior."  Highly esteemed members making what seem to be unimaginable choices:  Doctors, teachers, architects, school board members caught cheating on spouses, esteemed families experiencing public breakdowns, high school sweethearts--couples who seemed bonded forever by the sheer strength of heart and mind--divorcing.   Although each recent tragedy is fundamentally different and unique there are two things that they all have in common.  First, as with all scandals, stories are passed from community member to community member; some true, some exaggerated, some completely fabricated but all readily believed by the listeners.  These stories fly through the air as easily as feathers in a wind storm and echo like footsteps in a narrow hallway.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, according to the "gossip elite" these "scandals" are scurrilous and shocking because of the very nature of WHO was involved.  For the last few weeks, many shook their heads in disbelief saying things like, "I never thought that SHE would do something like that!"  or "Can you believe that THEY are divorcing!"  or "They SEEMED like such good parents."

So these are the newest casualties of the small town gossip mill.  Their garage doors are wide open and all the world gets to look inside and tsk at the disrepair.  A people watcher at heart, it is always interesting to me how people react to such disrepute.  Some will have no sympathy, needing a ladder to climb on their horses, they will shake their heads and say, "Well all poor choices have consequences."   Some, helpers at heart, will chime in with recommendations as to how "the broken garage" could be fixed.  Some will judge that the owners of our figurative garage didn't try to repair it the first moment that they noticed something just wasn't quite right.  Some will vow never to visit the house with the faulty garage again.  After all, a broken garage can be a dangerous thing.  Some will be gleeful that the perfect looking house isn't so perfect after all...But hopefully...hopefully...a few will call or visit and say, "My garage door was once in disrepair. What do you need from me?"  Or maybe even, "My garage is fine but my dishwasher doesn't work.  How can I help you fix that garage so that then maybe you can help me repair my dishwasher?" 

When the seemingly sane and put-together do something insane and unraveled, we shouldn't be shocked.  The human being is a complicated mechanism. Lucky are those who haven't had a complete and public "mechanical breakdown" for all to witness, but I'd wager that most of us have had many-a-mechanical malfunction--behind very firmly closed garage doors.    

Monday, September 13, 2010

Words of Wisdom--Brought to You by Hindsight


 Click on the link above to watch an amazing video about motherhood!  Grab your tissues!

1.  Meet other moms.
2.  It is okay to be scared.
3.  Millions of parents survive sleep deprivation.
4.  It's okay to want a break.
5.  You WILL make mistakes.  Forgive yourself.
6.  Real men change diapers.
7.  Take time to fall in love with your baby.
8.  Take time for yourself.
9.  Let Grandma spoil them.
10.  Imperfect is the new perfect.

These are 10 of my favorite messages from the above video link made by Nummies, a nursing bra company.  It is a touching reflection of mothers holding signs with messages that they'd tell their "pre-mom" selves if they could go back in time.  About 5 seconds into the video I found my eyes welling and then spilling over with tears.  Chin quivering, I nodded my head vigorously with every new message that appeared.  At the end of the video, I closed my eyes and naturally pictured myself as that VERY young...(too young perhaps)...24-year-old-first-time-mother.  There was part of the current me that wanted to shake her, but most of me just felt bad for her and her two sons for all that she DIDN'T know, all that she needed to learn, and the path that she'd have to take to grow up to become a mother her boys deserved.

It is hard as a mom not to think "If I knew then, what I knew now..."  and then tick off a list of things we'd have done differently if we had that impossible chance to do it all over again.  And while I was mulling over that list another thought began to creep in, staying at first on the periphery, but ultimately permeating the din shining a bright light on the "could-haves" and "should-haves."  After 16 years of raising my sons, I DID have the unique chance to kind-of-sort-of-in-a-way do it all over again...this time with Ila. It presented an interesting opportunity for me, the seasoned mom, to teach me, the new mom, some of the important things I learned along the way.  Learning from my experiences in order to improve my parenting this time around...what a concept.

Feeling excited by the prospect of being able "to go back in time," I began to rummage through the dusty, dark recollections tucked away into the far away corners in my house of memories.  I called to them to come out...and they did...gingerly.  Painful mistakes I'd made as a mom, things I neglected to do, phrases that should never have been said were typically not allowed to see the light of day in order to protect my sanity.  But now they served as research subjects.  All week I viewed and reviewed them in an arms length way with the emotional disconnect of a scientist.  What could I learn from the mistakes I made?  More so, what could I learn from the happy moments of the last 16 years of parenting?  What messages could I till from the roots of my experiences so that they could be delivered in my time machine to the awaiting "new" mother who was eager to learn.

After much cogitation I am pleased with my list of ten lessons to tell my "pre-mom" self.   Buckle your seat belts and join me on my time machine as we deliver the following messages to...um...well...me!
Lessons for My Pre-mom Self.

1.  Everything  always looks better in the morning.
2.  When someone offers help--take them up on it.  Learn to lean.
3.  Life is difficult.  Shielding your children from all things uncomfortable will not equip them with the coping mechanisms they will need in the future.
4.  Every mistake made is the universe's way of teaching you something.  Look for the lessons.
5.  Saying sorry is not a sign of parental weakness.
6.  Sometimes you may not know what's best.  Find an expert who does. 
7.  Be infinitely careful about who you allow to become important to your children.
8.  Sometimes the hardest, most heart-wrenching choice for you is what is best for your children.  Trust your gut.  Your hurt will pass and your child will grow.
9.  Problem solve WITH your children.  Teaching them how will ensure that they never feel trapped or limited.
10. Be the person you want your children to be...because they are ALWAYS watching. 

Now it's YOUR turn. What lessons did I miss that you'd want YOUR pre-mom (or dad) self to know?  Leave them in the comment box below!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Miracle of Ila

She turns one on Wednesday.  A pink perfect balance of personality.  A fashionista who treasures books, music and wondrous words--just-like-her-mom.  A fierce Yankee fan who dons her pink Yankee cap when a game is on and can throw a ball like Andy Petite--enamoring her father forever.  Her smile is a beacon in the darkest room, blackest moment, bleakest hour.  She embodies my beloved father-in-law, a veritable people person at heart, by dazzling anyone with her sing-songy incessant "Hiiiiiiiiiiii."  to greet all passersby.  She is fiercely determined to get what she wants--what she needs--by any means necessary, and she is a lightening quick learner.  But our girl is so much more, and that is the dilemma.  How to capture the essence of this little miracle in a singular blog post?

I am ashamed to tell you dear readers that before our little Ila arrived I wasn't thrilled at the idea of being a mother again.  The mere thought shrouded me with gray.  As my belly expanded it seem to fill to the brim with dread and resentment.  I had been mothering for 16 years, loving the boys with all I had, but trudging through a mire of mistakes, shooting arrows blindly in the dark.  Motherhood back then seemed to be based on luck... a newbie archer of sorts hoping that some of those arrows would land at least near the target, never feeling like I ever obtained a parenting bulls eye. Yet here I was again loading the bow that I thought I'd be putting away in some dank cobwebby attic in the near future.  It seemed to me that I was moving backwards, but  desperately wanting to move forward. To grow.  To change.  To expand my potential.  To explore new worlds.  To solidify relationships and make new ones.  To travel to far away places.  Giving birth to a baby girl seemed to be the last thing that would allow me to do anything on that list.  Oh my dear readers how WRONG I was.

And perhaps that is what I want you to know most about our little Ila. She is a force, a ball of energy both subliminal and literal.   Backwards is the last direction her presence has allowed.  In fact, I can emphatically say that that 20 pound, 2 feet 3 inch girl  has used her substantial muscle to bring about colossal forward movement to a life I had decided was doomed to be stuck in a bog of repetition for at least 18 more years.
I wanted to grow and so the forces of nature behind Ila's arrival provided me the opportunity. Wanting--no no--needing to parent differently this time around made me realize that I'd have to mature in order to do that. So now, parenting is no longer a childish archery game.  It is an ongoing  mature conversation, a welcomed infinite learning experience.  I am the grown up and I am the guide.  Light years different than the 24 year old first time mother I was eons ago.

I wanted to change, to solidify relationships and so the forces of nature behind Ila's arrival provided me the opportunities.  Forever needing to be in control--needing to hold onto those puppet strings so the earth wouldn't fall into oblivion, Ila threw me a few uncontrollable curve balls.  It started with three months of bed rest-in the middle of a house under construction...the mess and chaos was hive inducing.  (Those of you who are closest to me...stop laughing...the mess was hive inducing even for me....which tells you how large the mess truly was...)  Then she added a heart condition leaving her mother forever exhausted, gasping for breath even after short trips to the bathroom.  But it didn't stop there.  The universe that was in charge of Ila's arrival also threw in failure-to-thrive and a choking incident just to make sure I understood that I couldn't be in charge or control of everything.  And you know what?  All of that misery, changed me for the better.  It helped me to realize that leaning on those who love you is more than okay and more than necessary.  I don't have to do it all, and I don't now.  I will be forever in debt to my sister-in-law, Sandy who lovingly soothed me as I was dealt the blow of a congestive heart failure diagnosis, who let me cry unrelenting tears when the IV was put in . I'm forever grateful to her husband, Bill, who took care of our sweet Ila while I was being admitted to the hospital, getting her to take her first full two ounces of formula, but most of all for bringing Ila and ALL her gear to the cardiac unit even though it was close to midnight because I couldn't rest without her.  I well up with such immense gratitude to my colleagues who visited and cooked and called, and especially to Nurse Janel who spent her evenings with us every night for a month teaching Jeff the ins and outs of fatherhood, cooking and cleaning and most of all comforting.  Letting go also brought me closer to those I call family.  My best friend Sherry flying up from Tampa to "get this house in gear" made me realize the infinite value of a life long friend.   My sister Lanni calling weekly, listening with FULL ear to my fears and dreams and ambitions, loving me for who I am...dirt and all... humbled a hardened me who once espoused that "I didn't need anyone.".  Then there is  Ila's middle name sake, my truly incredible Dr.Speed Dial ,whose constant presence whenever or where ever I needed her, on the couch, in the hospital, in the middle of the night, and in my heart, taught me that true love isn't conditional.  Having Ila meant having to let go and lean, to let others do the doing. What a glorious change.

What about expanding my potential?  Well Ila's arrival has offered me an opportunity for that as well.  While writing has always been a passion, my experiences as a mom of two teenage boys AND a newborn has given me fodder beyond my wildest dreams to pen....and the hopes of doing it professionally.  That led me to partake in my first writing conference in San Francisco (a faraway place).  It led me to start this very blog.  It led me to apply and get hired as a columnist for a popular family website.  Having Ila has opened all kinds of doors and windows of potential.  Without her incandescently cute and special presence in my life, I may be still standing in that bog of repetition mired in the muck of misery shooting arrows into empty air.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's Worth It.

I SWORE I wouldn't do this with Ila, but now I am glad I did.  You all know what I'm talking about...that "thing" that moms do....that "worrying thing."  Where the littlest cough makes you wonder if they are developing pneumonia or more recently, swine flu.  Or that little area of rash on their bellies that makes you pretty darn sure they have ring worm.  And don't forget that the stomach cramps they developed overnight HAS to be e coli or salmonella poisoning.  Admit it.  How many of you...you know who you are...how many of you  have gotten into bed  after holding their little heads over the toilet so they can vomit, worrying--hoping-- that the chicken you served for dinner was cooked well enough?  Where would we be without our imaginations right?  Right!  And that is the point of this blog post.  Our imaginations, our constant states of alertness, although exhausting 100% of the time and useless 98% of the time, are valuable when it comes to that 2 % of the time in which we are right. There is a little voice in our heads that whisper these worries to us Mudders and we must listen to it. Sometimes it doesn't whisper, it screams like a bad actress in a horror film.  Don't ignore it  just because it is so annoying, lest a slasher come when you least expect it.

That "worry voice" has been nagging me for months about Ila, for 8 months, to be exact.  In her first weeks, I noticed that she favored her right side.  Left side often still.  Left leg not quite as nimble.  Left arm stuck to her side.  At her three month check up I mentioned my observations to her pediatrician (whom I adore by the way.)  But he waved it off, explaining that some babies were positioned awkwardly while in the womb therefore making one side weaker than the other.  She'd grow out of it he assured me.  He'd seen it a thousand times.  I blindly and numbly bobbed my head up and down.  Agreeing with the smart doctor who knew so much more than me when it came to these things.  Of course, he was right...after all...he was the doctor. 

The months rolled on and Ila very slowly began to make motions to roll.  But she never got quite over from her back to her stomach.  Again I noticed that she'd only use her right side to roll left.  My worry voice quieted by the doctor began to nag loudly that something was very wrong.  I enlisted the help of my brilliant pediatric physical therapist friend, we'll call "PT Smarty," and she gave me some tips on how to expedite the rolling process. Low and behold she rolled, only one way, but no matter.  The milestone was reached, and the worry voice was hushed for a short time. 

As developmental milestone moments came and went, Ila would muster through all the advice that PT Smarty continually gave, but doing it in her own way, as if she was compensating for something unknown.  Rolling from stomach to back, sitting, sitting up from a laying down position, each had their own Ila flair, and because of that the worry voice never really left me alone.

The clincher came on the first day that Ila crawled.  It was awkward and unlike anything I had ever seen.  Again seemingly favoring the right side, Ila would plant her right foot down on the floor with her knee cocked up and drag her left foot behind her..as if there was no life in it.  The moment that she did that, my skin turned ice cold.  Like a chic in a horror flick I could feel the slasher breathing down my neck.  My worry voice began screaming.  I immediately videotaped Ila doing her funky crawl and sent it off to PT Smarty. (You can see the video I sent her by clicking the arrow underneath the picture of Ila above.)

True to her name, PT Smarty from a video...(A video!!!) diagnosed Ila as possibly having a muscular problem called torticollis.  What followed was a blurry week of doctor visit after doctor visit after doctor visit which in the end only confirmed  PT Smarty's brilliance.  Torticollis is a sort of tilting of the neck due tight sternocleidomastoideus muscles.  Had the pediatrician erred on the side of caution at her three month checkup, therapy would have been easier and more of a guarantee.  But at 11 months, her therapy is difficult at best, although true to her nature she has been a trooper through the whole thing.

I  am truly, utterly, and infinitely grateful to PT Smarty.  I will spend the rest of my days letting her know of the deep gratitude I have for taking an interest in Ila's development.  But I am also grateful to the sometimes annoying, sometimes nagging voice that too often I carry as a burden.  Mudders as long as the world is run by humans, as long as decisions are made by humans, as long as doctors are human and educators are human, heck ANY "expert" is human, then we must look upon them--look upon their opinions-- although educated, as ones that could be fallible due to the very fact that being HUMAN means that mistakes can be made.  I truly believe that is why moms are equipped with those worry voices.  To keep the mistakes from doing  damage that can't be undone.    So often moms are looked down upon for their opinions, for the very reason that they come from "mom," and therefore couldn't be objective. However, this experience with Ila has taught me that, while my worry voice most of the time is a horrific energy vacuum, it is there for a reason.  Even if it proves valuable only once in a lifetime of worry, it will have done its job.  And after all, our kids are worth it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Solitary Confinement

This week I am working diligently on a query for an agent possibly interested in a book about motherhood. And so, it seems to be a great week to bring out an oldy but a goody. This post resonated with so many moms, and I got bombarded with comments both private and public. Ultimately, in a society of mothers, our problems that take place in our families are ours alone. This is a small slice of what takes place in my house and leaves me feeling helpless. Please read and feel free to comment. Have you ever felt a solitary figure in a sea of mothers and advice? I am with you. Read on!  

Lately, I am a lonely mother.  I know--even in a world with millions of moms and mom-blogs and mom-circles and mom magazines, even though my closest confidants are parents: I am a solitary figure with solitary problems living in a deep dark solitary vacuum.  What about those social networks you ask?  Well, amongst 143 friends on my Facebook page only 20 of them aren't parents.  (Mostly my former students, others who have made conscious choices NOT to be moms and dads, and one priest.)  I suppose I could turn to the remaining 123 friends for parenting companionship and mutual begrudging, but somehow it feels fruitless. 

It's a funk I'm in, and I'm not talking about James Brown and George Clinton.  I am talking about one heck of a "woe-is-me-black-cloud-over-my-head" funkadelic funk.  I just get tired sometimes.  I mean, this mother stuff...it is endless.  I once read that women during the Salem Witch Trials would be subjected to something called "pressing" where rocks would be piled on the "witch's" chest one after the other until they confessed out of sheer panic of being crushed under their weight.  I think my funk is due to a sort of emotional "pressing" where issue after issue has piled up crushing my mind.  Trying to figure out solutions to all the problems that plague my children in various ways is exhausting.  How to help one son find confidence and work to his potential, how to squelch one son's seemingly endless conceit, how to keep a son with stitches in tip top shape so he is able to keep up with the varsity cross country team that he has been asked to join, how to not throw one son over the South Glens Falls Bridge the next time he sasses...which will probably happen before I finish this next sentence... not to mention the constant refereeing that takes place every time the boys are in the same room together.

I know that every family has its own set of "stuff."  I know I am not alone in that.  But is there anyone else out there that just feels beaten every once in awhile from the never ending bag of do-do that seems to be thrown at us mothers constantly and consistently?  Take last night for instance...

Aidan was at a party.  His curfew is 11:30.  But as 11:30 came and went, he didn't show.  I texted him three times only for him to ignore them.  I called his phone and the phone of the boy with whom he was supposed to get a ride, all to no avail.  So at five after midnight, Aidan's step-father went to the house to get him.  Ten minutes later as they arrived back at the house...all holy hell broke loose.  Let me remind you it was 12:15 AM.  But no matter.  Aidan comes in to the house blustering about how unfair we are and how embarrassed he was.  This blustering is done with Aidan's full voice which of course leads to his little brother waking up and coming out to see what all the fuss is.  Once he realizes that his brother is in trouble, he begins to gloat openly.  Saying things like, "Mom you won't be able to trust him anymore!"  (Parroting a discussion that I had had earlier with Gannan who is the "great exaggerator.")  He continues, "That is it! Right mom?  No more parties for Aidan.  That is what you'd do to me."

Aidan then becomes indignant and much louder at his brother's goading.  I now have to deal with the curfew issue and the fighting issue.  I send Gannan back to his room, where he waltzes down the hall singing "He's in truuuuubbbllle..  He's in truuuubbbllle"  I turn to Aidan who now has slipped out of the kitchen and exits to his bedroom in the finished basement punctuating said move with a fierce slamming of the door.  The slamming of the door (OF COURSE) wakes up the baby who begins to wail at the scary noise that jolted her out of  her sound sleep.  Predictably and understandably, my husband is livid at the commotion caused by my two boys who have now woken up his daughter.  A commotion mind you that is still continuing.  Gannan is taunting loudly from his bedroom.  Aidan is blustering boisterously from his bedroom.  Jeff is fuming in the living room.  I am trying to sooth a ten month old who clearly would rather have her father-- indicated by a stiff back arch that keeps her as far away from me as humanly possible, the finger pointing to the closed door and the incessant "da da, da da, da da," that is coming from her quivering lips. 

Her father, after trying to compose himself, finally comes into the baby's bedroom.  She instantly stops the heavy heaving crying she has been doing with me and...do I dare say it???? Well...she smiles...sigh.  I leave daddy and daddy's girl to go back to the sanctuary of my bedroom-beaten and battered, angry and anxious, resentful and rageful.  An hour later (that's 1:30 AM for those of you keeping a tally on the time) I am still feeling all of these things that come in the form of a mish-mashed rounded heavy ball in the pit of my stomach.  If I could categorize the chunks that make up the spherical agony-it would be self-wallowing and jealousy due to the fact that Ila really and truly prefers her dad to me and an absolute fiery fury directed at the boys
who in their need to be contrary and ornery forget that their anger and contentiousness causes chaos and misery to innocent bystanders like a ten month old sleeping baby. 

Around 2 AM desperately needing to sleep, I walked to the kitchen for a glass of milk hoping it would bring on the needed zzzzzzz's.  I am incredulous at the quiet.  Husband sound asleep on the couch in the living room.  Ila tucked away in the corner of her crib.  Aidan's basement teen palace dark and silent.  Gannan's long legs hanging off the side of his bed in sleepy angles.  Only me awake with my thoughts, awake with my anger and frustration.  A solitary mother bathed in the light of the refrigerator.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mama's Soundtrack

The soundtrack starts first thing in the morning.  I am awakened by shouting and banging, presumably the boys fighting, and immediately the bass guitar of David Bowie's Under Pressure begins its repetitive" bum bum bum ba ba bum bum, bum bum bum ba ba bum bum."  I jump out of bed and find the two boys in front of the bathroom arguing about who will shower first.  We have assigned a section of time for each kid so the problem (it would seem) is easily solved.  "Aidan, you overslept.  It is Gannan's time in the shower.  You will have to wait."
"Mom!"  screams Aidan frantically.  "I have to get to school early!  I have a review class!"
"Nope, nope." says Gannan sarcastically.  "It's my time right mom?  Right?"
Trying to decide what to do, my mind's soundtrack plays in the background.

                      " Pressure, pushing down on me
                       Pressing down on you, no man ask for
                       Under pressure, that burns a building down
                       Splits a family in two
                       Puts people on streets."

I grew up in a musical family where performing, piano lessons, voice lessons, dance lessons, 8 track tapes, oodles of albums and radios blaring intertwined with the din of life on 132 Hunter Street.  Music was always there.  It would keep me company on my paper route at 5:30 in the morning.  It would play in the background during showers, homework time, or hanging out with friends, and while belting out a show tune on stage, it would give me a high like no other.  Music was and still is a reliable and trusted friend.   Is it any wonder that it accompanies me on this motherhood journey?  It seems that  for every situation I experience throughout the day there is a song I can connect to it.  Many people who enjoy music are attracted to the melodies and combination of sounds.  For me, the lyrics have always been the most important.  If I can relate to the words the singer is singing, the song has me hooked forever.  Songs that make me feel less alone as a mom and sometimes a wife immediately get put on my iPod and become part of the "mom soundtrack" in my head.  Sound crazy?  Little singers in my head...No my name isn't Sybil!  Let me give you more examples.

The boys are outside.  Baby is napping.  I have seen an interesting story on CNN that I can't wait to discuss with Jeffrey.  We settle in on the couch and I say, "You should have seen this story that Anderson Cooper did on CNN last night."

"Uh huh."  Jeff grunts.
I am pretty sure I see his eyes glaze over, but I really want to tell him about it so I press forward. As I delve into the details of the story (that I will spare you here) Jeff's eyes wander to the television.  I move my position on the couch so that he at least can see me peripherally and therefore may refocus, but instead he turns his head a little more focusing harder on the TV.  It is at this moment that my mom soundtrack begins to play Listen (from the motion picture Dreamgirls) sung so brilliantly by Beyonce.

                            "Listen... to the song here in my heart
                             A melody I start but can complete.
                             Listen... to the sound from deep within
                             It's only beginning to find release."

Trying to ignore that his eyes aren't looking at me, trying to ignore that his body is pitched forward as if trying to hear the TV better, even trying to ignore the song playing in my head warning me that I don't have his attention, I continue to talk and pose a question--perhaps to measure whether my husband is listening or not--

"Can you believe he reacted that way?" 

"Uh huh."  he grunts again.  His eyes are on the TV.  I sit quietly hoping that he is just thinking of something to say, but after five silent minutes I give up, and as I walk away Beyonce's voice sings louder in my head.

                               "Listen... I am alone at a crossroads
                                I am not home in my own home
                                And I tried and tried to say what's on my mind.
                                You should have known."

I am not sure when I realized that I had this growing collection of songs in my mind chiming in during specific daily moments.  But I am kind of glad that they are there.  It is comforting to me that there are song writers out in the cosmos who seem to understand, in their own way, the feelings that I may be experiencing at  certain times.  And that isn't to say that the songs only play during frustrating times.  They also play during times of happiness and levity.

For instance, whenever I see Ila after a particularly long nap or date night with Jeff, Leona Lewis' version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face  plays melodically throughout my head.  "I thought the sun rose in your eyes..."  At night the soundtrack leaves my head and gets played out as lullabies sung by me.  If you were a fly on the wall in Ila's bedroom you would hear a variety of songs from Carly Simon's Love Of My Life  and Barbara Streisand's version of Not While I'm Around to my very favorite, Carole King's Child Of Mine

                             "You don't need direction, you know which way to go
                              And I don't want to hold you back,
                              I just want to watch you grow
                              You're the one who taught me
                              you don't have to look behind
                              Oh yes, sweet darling
                              So glad you are a child of mine."

There are many songs that seemed to get played out  more often than others.  For instance, when I am feeling particularly desperate about the problems that plague the family that I love, when I feel inadequate in the mothering department, a favorite tune by Jon McLaughlin, Beautiful Disaster becomes a repetitive reel both in my head and on the i Home in my kitchen.  "Perfect only in her imperfection" is a line that seems to sum up how I feel most of the time when it comes to being a mother.  I am ashamed to say that sometimes, on very taxing days where I have been a taxi driver, a chef, a referee, a maid, and an overall punching bag for the shortcomings of my children's lives, Adam Lambert's purely amazing voice belts out the chorus from his recent hit, Whataya Want From Me. Concentrating on that line..."Hey!  Whataya want from me, whataya want from me heee..." has offered me moments of sanity when really all I wanted to do was LOSE-MY-MIND-ON-THE-NEAREST-CHILD.  So my soundtrack really CAN sooth the inner savage beast.

Finally I'd be remiss to leave out that my Mama Soundtrack can sometimes help to set a tone or mood.  For instance, on the rare evening that my husband and I go out (and I mean really out, drinks, dancing, good food, friends) I can do a pretty great Mimi impression in the shower holding my scrub brush as a microphone and singing Out Tonight from the Broadway show, Rent.

                                "Let's go owwwwooooot tonight.
                                I have to go owwwwwoooooot tonight.
                                You wanna prowl, be my night owl?
                                Well take my hand, we're gonna howl
                                Owwwooooot tonight."

Really gets a girl going, ya know?  And then of course at the end of the day, when all is quiet I sit at my vanity removing makeup and brushing my hair, and Jeffrey comes in after giving Ila a bath smelling of soap and Johnson's baby lotion.  He sits behind me on the bed and says in a particular way how much he loves me.  At moments like this, I may turn to gaze in his eyes while Beyonce's Naughty Girl rings its slow sultry beginning in my ears, "Ahhhhhh love to love ya baby.  Ahhhhh love to love ya baby...."  ehem...What happens next?  Well my dear readers, those details are for a far DIFFERENT kind of blog.

If you are interested in some of my songs, you can click on them and listen or even purchase them from Amazon.com.
What about you?  What's on YOUR soundtrack that you think I should add to mine?  Leave your list by commenting below!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Jackie Oh!

Hillary Clinton wrote It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us a popular book on the importance of  the community's involvement when raising children.  But WAY before her book the phrase, "It takes a village," originated as an African proverb.  Over the years, as I think I have mentioned before, I have taken full advantage of the wisdom of this quote.  I am a firm believer that sometimes as a parent I have to let someone else step in when I am unable to give or do for my child what he may desperately need.  Parents of tweens and teens know oh so well, our kids get to a certain age where what we say, what we think, what we know, doesn't matter.  But a wise parent also knows that this too is the age where what others say, what others think, what others know, DOES MATTER.  So my "village" list is lengthy.  I have used friends, educators, coaches, relatives and even other students (usually ones that are older) to help guide my children in their endeavors or, more importantly, to help them solve dilemmas that they typically don't want me to know about, (I usually do,) or to be involved in, (I typically am, thanks to the help of my "village.")

There are many people I owe a thanks to for the help that they have offered and the support they have freely given to those boys of mine.  But this post is meant to be a tribute to a specific member of my village that I didn't know, ummmm, shall we say, was even a neighbor. She quietly took residence in the town of "Aidan and Gannan" especially over the last year.  For those of you who know me, you know that I developed a heart condition while pregnant with Ila.  These past nine months have been excruciatingly hard and the boys, being older, sometimes took a backseat and didn't get what they needed at the exact time they needed it. If you follow the blog then you also know that sometimes not getting what they need can turn into conflict pretty quickly in our household (a slight understatement, yes?)   What makes this village member so special is that despite the fact that my sons (whom I love with all I have) can be difficult, despite the fact that I never even asked her to help with the boys in any way shape or form, she just took it upon herself to do for them whenever the need arose.   And believe me...there has been an abundance of need.  So Mudders of mine, could I get a "Woot Woot" for new village member....Jackie Wright...my boys' stepmother.

I know that some mothers may be shocked at the deep gratitude I have for the other woman in my boys' lives.  I mean the relationship between a mother and step mother is often portrayed in movies and on TV shows as one of tension and jealousy.  And although my husband would assure you emphatically that I am most definitely capable of tension and jealousy, I have never felt either for Jackie.  Watching her gentleness with Aidan and Gannan when they were a mere 2 and 5 years old, I quickly came to appreciate the love and devotion that she offered them even though she had two daughters of her own.  As the boys got older and were able to speak of her, they never once spoke ill.  I  have always marveled at "her way" with them.  In fact, "her way" often taught me me how to be a better mother from afar.  While there was always an appreciation for Jackie, one incident clinched my profound admiration for her.

Gannan called from his dad's once.  They had had a fight.  No. No.  Let's say a blowout. He was beside himself on the phone.  Sobbing.  Pleading.  He wanted to come home, but according to our legally binding visitation agreement collecting dust in the dining room desk, he had to stay for 24 more hours, only to come home Sunday at 5 pm. I did my best to be mom.  As my gut pitched and rolled, I said things like, "Gannan, just take a time out honey in your bedroom."  As Gannan made mucousy hiccup sounds in between words like "Please." and "No." I shushed and soothed as best I could over the seemingly endless telephone wire.  We eventually hung up and I curled into the fetal position on my bed wracked with guilt and helplessness.  A few hours later a very different cheery Gannan called me back.  I gently asked how he was feeling.  He said, "Jackie took me for a ride.  I feel better."  When I probed a little further he said, "Mom, did you know that when Jackie feels bad she goes for a ride to a really cool place to clear her head?"

"No I didn't know that."  I answered..
"Yeah," he continued.  "She took me there.  It's cool.  It looks over the lake.  I just stood there looking out at it and do you know what?"
"What?" I asked trying to hide that I was choking up.
"Jackie is right!  That place is so good it made me feel better."

At that moment, she was Superwoman.  She was a mom for Gannan when I couldn't be.  I realized then how very lucky my children were to have her.  These past nine months have only strengthened that notion.  She's attended baseball games, encouraged the boys to do their best in school,  and taken them at unscheduled times to give me time to rest and recover.  Since the boys' father and I DO have the typical movie and TV portrayal divorce, she has acted as a go between speaking for him sometimes, and at others speaking for me.  When we are in the same places supporting our children in their many activities, she readily comes to chat, cooing and coddling Ila, giving advice as one mother of a preemie to another.  I have come to look forward to seeing her and experiencing her sweetness, just the way I bet my boys feel about her.  And I'd like to think that in another world, or should I say a different village where she wasn't my ex-husband's wife, I'd still seek her out.  She has a lot to give.  Just ask my sons.