Monday, July 26, 2010

My very own Jem and Scout

For my family, being away from home brings out the worst and the best of us.  Tempers are short when sleep gets compromised on progressively longer days as we cram in more and more.  Kids tend to bicker more in close quarters.  Like a car.  For 4 hours.

But the worst of it is brief, forgivable, compared to the best of it.  I love being together without the pressure of the laundry pile (oh, believe me, it lurks in the back of my mind waiting to multiply and pounce on me when we arrive home), never-ending tasks at work, and projects for which procrastination is part of the title--like "that bathroom painting project I keep putting off..."  I love only needing to be responsible for a couple of meals and documenting my children's joy of being outdoors away from home.

We're staying in Northern Michigan on a lake in a beautiful cabin that my father-in-law built from a tear down.  The view is spectacular.

Last night, I watched T1 and T2 gathering acorns, skimming stones, and jumping off the dock.  I had a vision of the two of them making up games and stories--summertime yarns that are the only things that occupy their minds.  I keep seeing these dirty-faced ruffians like Jem and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird (my current summer read).  My characters, like the fictional ones, are devoted to each other.  They're outside from sun up to sun down.  They create imaginary worlds in the forest that provide a dappled backdrop for the most memorable of play.

Like Scout, when they're older, I hope they reflect fondly on this coming of age time in their lives and while they learn about the world around them, they keep some of the innocence that is captivating in a seven-year-old's summer.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My mother, myself?

I recently returned from taking my family to the Pacific Northwest where my mother and brother both live, having moved from CA in the '80s.  I visit as much as I can, either by myself or with the family, but I always am left wanting more of them, as we are so very close, in my regular day-to-day life. 

My mother has Multiple Sclerosis and is now in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, and needs help with all of her personal and daily tasks.  It's hard for me to see my mother this way.  She's 76 but seems 86.  I feel that she's only getting small bits of my children's childhood.  Still, I want her to know how important she is in how I'm raising my own kids.  My mom has always been someone I've turned to for advice, to share about my day, and to hear about how her stoic, confident, and resilient individualism has seen her through the death of her own parents (her mother at age 3 and her father at 17), a divorce from my father, a death of her second husband, and this debilitating disease while remaining positive and enthusiastic for life.

I remember my mom as a vibrant, loving homemaker.  She was there making the kitchen the hub of our existence.  I remember the black ceramic tea cups that held the vinegar mixture that my brother, sister and I used to dye Easter eggs.  They would splash water colored webs on the newspaper covered table.  I remember the same table at Christmas when we would bake cookies and the table would be filled with sugar-sparkled newspaper.  She was providing these environments and then she was gone, like a ghost.  I think now that she was probably off doing laundry or making beds or somehow doing the mom things that needed to be done.  She'd check back in and see where we were in our activity, but I don't remember her judging or commenting, although she must have. 

My brother, sister and me--see the black cups?

My older brother, me, my younger sister

She would take meat out of the freezer, leave it sweating on the counter, quiz us on what she might serve for dessert with initials, like "tonight we're having 'CH'" (stood for cream horns, pastry filled with cream.)  She looked happy all the time--but I know she wasn't.  That was the gift she gave us.  She allowed us to be kids by keeping her emotions to herself allowing us the freedom of whatever stresses may have been bothering her. She let our lives evolve while we grew into the people that she was hoping we'd be.

That swollen eye isn't from my brother--I had a sty--she made me pose anyway

Sometimes I feel like I fall short in that part about letting my children grow into the people they're going to be.  My mother didn't deconstruct every parenting book on the market trying to find a philosophy that would be the panacea for all her fears.  She took us to church, sent us to a good school, put us on "restriction, missy" when discipline was needed, and then got out of the way.  I wish I could build upon her wisdom as I go through this journey, assured that I'm doing the right thing.

But she's aging rapidly now.  This is one of the drawbacks of having children older--everyone in their lives is older.  The MS has affected my mom in ways beyond her physical limitations.  A recent MRI and CAT scan reveal advancement of the disease.  My mom's mind is softening, not nearly as sharp as it used to be.  She repeats her small bits of conversation over and over, for she has little stimulating to say because her life is so routine.  "Did I tell you that your niece left for London today," she'll say, 3 times in a conversation.  It's the biggest news to reach her room in days.  I just say, "Yes, you did. Do you think she'll have a good time?" trying not to draw attention to her repetitiveness.  I still see that woman with the apron and the jokes in the kitchen, raising a brood of silly squirmers, the woman who still listens intently to my every word and makes me feel loved.

Someday, I'll be like her, and my kids will be like me--only much younger than me.  Will they be frustrated with me and ache to have me back the way I was in their childhood?  I know that the times I share with them now are their memories in the making.  When we go hiking, they're seeing me active, athletic.  When I go on every ride at Disneyland (some they won't even go on), I'm to them what my mom was to me.  Even when I'm too old to do these things anymore, they'll remember fondly, the way I do when I reminisce with my mom.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wonder of Wonders --Miracles of Miracles

Last Sunday, I met an old friend for brunch.  She recently had a baby (her second after a 19-year gap--long but good story for another day).  He's so cuddly, sticky, drooly, chunky, gotta squeeze his cheeks!  I was enthralled with this baby, and so is she.  I love how she appreciates the time she has with him, and she's over the moon about his every move.  It was like I was transported back to the days when the twins were little babies and I could not get enough of their cooing, emerging personalites.  T2 used to bounce in that vibrating bouncy seat for hours--long after she was too big for it; T1 had a perpetual third eye in the middle of his forehead when he turned 1 from crashing into the couch edge in an overzealous effort to run.  I was nostalgic for my babies and the time when discoveries were happening in every hour of the day.  I loved watching them change and grow daily.

As they've grown, I've learned that changes happen at differently at every developmental stage.  Sometimes these changes are monumental -- wiping their own bottoms! --buckling their own seat belts!  Sometimes they are colossal challenges.  And each time I think I've got this mommy thing figured out, it changes again. 

And sometimes, they surprise me with a wonderful change that I could not have seen coming even if it was a freight train heading right toward me.  Remember this I posted about 2 weeks ago?

Here's how it looked when I got home from  brunch on Sunday afternoon.

All on his own, unprompted, T1 CLEANED his own room!  He organized the items on the desk. (notice the ordered bowling pins?  My dad's league bowling trophies in chronological order) Yes, people, he even threw some things away.  My little man is growing up, and oh, how I hope this desire for neatness sticks, even if it's just every once in a while.

Not to be outdone, and because she cannot ever resist any competition, T2 cleaned her own room too.  Witness the before and after:



I entered their rooms with my eyes closed when they wanted to show me what they'd done.  Proud smiles emblazoned across their faces.  This was something they did without me or my husband asking or nagging.  It was something they did not wait for us to take care of for them.  And wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, they found buried new things to play with.  And the world opened up anew, magically, just as when they, as babies, discovered they could crawl to the brightly colored toy across the room.

I'll take this magic any time they want to cast a spell my way.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"She said what?!?!" -- Confessions of a Mom-Gossip

Many of my friends and I became mothers around the same time.  Most of my closest friends these days are those who I met when my kids were babies.  It's funny because I seem to be looking, constantly searching for camaraderie, from people who share my experience or who have been through the same experience so that I can learn from them.  But I'm learning a valuable lesson from this searching.  No one shares your exact same experience, and while other mothers will have struggles with the same issues I struggle with, I can't base my actions or opinions on what others' actions are.  I must make my own way. 

I say this because I've been thinking a lot about how moms tend to be in competition with each other over the best way to nurture, feed, educate, and even diaper their children (see the discussion over at Mommywords.)  One mom feeds her children only nutritious food with nary a sugary snack in sight and only organic fruits and vegetables; another mom attachment-parents her baby while another is Ferber-ing and night weaning; in the last 2 decades, the classic SAHM vs. working mom debate has reached mammoth proportions; public school, private school, home school; television or not.  It's constant--everywhere--especially in the blogosphere.

I have found myself caught up in this gossip mill sometimes.  I've said, "I would NEVER...." and "I can't believe she...."  I've searched like-minded individuals who have shared my opinions and unknowingly, under the guise of making more sense and resolve out of my own decisions, have bashed unsuspecting mothers whose choices are different from mine.  I've made comments based on my beliefs without thinking about how others might feel criticized.  This behavior has weighed very heavy on my mind lately.  I feel so badly about my past gossipy tendencies, and I am making a change. 

My daughter has very strong opinions and never hesitates to voice them as she sees fit.  I practice reflecting her feelings back to her, in a very neutral way, so that she knows she's been heard and acknowledged.  However, I almost always follow that reflective listening with a "but...." and then spew forth my own opinion and rationalization or belief that is meant to get her to think beyond her feelings and see my point of view.  Eliminating the "but..." is part of my new change in relating to other moms.  I don't think it's productive to echo a mom's feelings about how she's coping with some new dramatic change in her child's behavior/health/education and then negate it all with a "'s what I think...."

I'm not saying that I don't want to hear how others are coping and even get suggestions, like I mentioned above.  I want to know what you've done that works for you.  Maybe it would work for me too.  What I'm making a conscious effort to do now is see everyone's path for what it's worth.  We all want the same basic thing--to help our children grow into strong, independent, confident beings who navigate the social waters like experienced sailors using all the tools taught to them by the experienced sailors before them.  It's my job to be the example I want them to follow.  I can't very well teach my twins how to treat others the way they want to be treated if I'm engaging in clandestine character assassination.  I need to be done judging.

In "Bad Mother" Aleyet Waldman discusses how she saw her first "bad mother" on a train--a woman who pulled her daughter's hair as she was putting it into a ponytail.  She relays how she was mortified at how this woman could do such a thing, in public, no less.  She says we moms are constantly trying to live up to some unrealistic expectation and when we see others who fail to meet that expectation, we judge them.  I've judged and been judged, and I really want to let that drama go from my life.  Waldman says the definition of a reasonable good mother is, "one who loves her kids and does her level best not to damage them in any permanent way. A good mother doesn't let herself be overcome by guilt when she screws up."

This is my goal for today--I'm gonna try not to screw it up, but if I do, I'm gonna cry to you, who will lift me up, and I won't feel guilty about it.