BOO! Who?!

scaredI’ve never enjoyed scary things. Halloween, haunted houses, thriller movies, and ghost stories make my skin crawl. People who revel in being frightened tell me about the satisfying adrenaline rush they get when they’re scared out of their wits. Here, we have to agree to disagree. Feeling terrified = bad.

Until this weekend, I hadn’t realized how far the scope of my faintheartedness extended. Husband thought he’d done a good deed by surprising me with a visit from Principessa who was supposed to be seven hours away at college.

There I stood, at the crack of dawn, half asleep on my feet in the kitchen. Stealthily, Principessa crept around the corner and planted herself silently in front of me. I thought I was seeing a ghost.

When I tell you that my brain stopped working, I’m not exaggerating. My body went into full-blown terror mode. My mind literally could not reconcile what my eyes were seeing.

When I managed to unfreeze myself, I began screaming repeatedly, “OH MY GOD!” until my brain unstuck itself and released a cascade of word salad that had my family laughing their butts off. The video that Husband took to capture the moment validates a breakdown of the senses so complete that I’m still reeling from the after-shocks.

For the remainder of the weekend I felt a little off-kilter. It was like playing that game where you return to a room and have to guess the one thing that has changed. In the weeks that Principessa had been gone, I had become accustomed to the uncomfortable feeling that her absence created. The empty seat at the dinner table, the lonely bedroom, the random pile of shoes that never moved. And now, here she was, in the flesh!

Like a new mother, I snapped multiple photos of my first-born with a desire to capture every nuance of her being. Principessa might as well have been an exotic bird – such was my renewed incredulity of her beauty and perfection. She would catch me staring at her with a silly grin on my face, so completely enamored of her that I had to fight the urge to squeal with delight.

The peaceI felt at having my entire brood together under one roof was indescribably satisfying. My heart and mind breathed a sigh of relief, creating a relaxation response that informed me of the low-level anxiety I’d been harboring since launching Principessa.

This emptying of the nest is teaching me all manner of things about resilience and balance and priorities. I could say that I’ve valued my time as a mother up to this point, but I’d not understood the concept of cherishing until the moments began to slip through my fingers as quickly as grains of sand.

My daughter is absent in form but has never been closer to my thoughts. The less she needs me, the more I long to take care of her. The more I say goodbye to her, the more it hurts because I know that the next time I see her she will be an even newer version of herself – one that may challenge my unrealistic urge to keep her all to myself.

Principessa wondered why I didn’t have more questions to ask her. In theory, I wanted to know every detail of her new life. But her very presence was enough to convince me that all was well. She exuded peace and confidence. My girl had matured at warp speed by gobbling up the buffet of opportunities available to her as a college Freshman.

We parted with mutual endearment. “I wish you could be at college with me,” she said, which made me wince. Even when we are exactly where we’re meant to be, doing what is best at the right time, we can’t help but long for the presence of our loved ones to share in the joy of the experience.

But this time belongs to her. I wouldn’t dream of inserting myself into the forefront of this adventure. Instead, I will take my place at the back of the book, buried amidst the pile of ever-growing bibliographic references that contribute to the captivating story that is her.

Faring thee well now.
Let your life proceed by its own design.
Nothing to tell now.
Let the words be yours, I’m done with mine.

‘Cassidy’ by the Grateful Dead

The Grace of Parenting

mother_child_4Bringing my daughter to tears on the first day of Middle School was not one of my shining moments. More

Letter to University from Mom

collegeBoundDear University,

You are about to receive a gift. We call her Principessa and she is my daughter. To you, she is just a statistic – one set of criteria that met with approval for acceptance into your esteemed institution.

Principessa will be leaving all that she knows to join you several hundred miles from home. She will be on her own for the first time. I don’t expect you to parent her or to take over for me in my absence. But I do expect you to provide her with what she needs to survive and to thrive over the next several years.

I hope you fulfill the promises you made when you wooed her into your fold – a solid education that will lead to job prospects, a safe environment, and ample diversity and opportunities to stimulate her personal growth.

This seems like the least I can ask for my financial investment. Which, by the way, is significantly higher than many of her fellow classmates. For instance, the athlete with the coveted ‘full boat.’ Apparently his physical skills are more highly valued than my daughter’s passion and talent for nurturing children and her long-standing desire to become a teacher.

My husband and I will pay an inflated sticker price for the reward of our daughter’s college education. To say that I’m not bitter or worried about the ability to afford this would be a lie. But I’m willing to bury my negativity in exchange for her ultimate success and happiness.

University, you have no idea how special my daughter is to me. And I get the feeling that you probably don’t care – except for caring that she reflects well on your reputation. Don’t worry, she’ll do you proud, just as she has done for us all these years.

Principessa is one in 17,000 to you, but she is one of a kind to us, her family. Please be good to her. She deserves the best you have to offer.

Sincerely,

Mom of the college Freshman

The New You

brand-new-you1

image credit purefunfit.com

Dearest Daughter,

I love that you so clearly wrote your feelings in response to my spontaneous comment about not liking the New You.  I am equally unhappy that your email was written at 1:00 a.m.!  Why? Because that is very late and I worry, as mothers do.

I try hard not to share my worries because I want to project confidence for you.  Deep down, I believe that you’ll be fine, even when you make poor choices or even good choices that I don’t like.  I believe in fate and God and the goodness of Life.  But my human-ness and my mom-ness continue to plague me with what-if scenarios.

When you were a clumsy toddler, I watched with fear as you climbed a playground structure.  My hands were never far from your body, waiting – expecting – to have to catch you.  My mothering instinct is to protect.  Over the years, I’ve learned to subdue the urge to rescue you, even when you begged me.  Case in point: making you call the orthodontist to let him know that, again, you need to replace your retainer.  And that you will be paying for it.

While punishing me as a child, my mother told me, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”  I didn’t believe her.  I do now.  It hurts me to see you struggle, even when I know it will result in your favor.

As the first-born you bear the task of paving roads.  All along the way, my parental inexperience has been your guide.  You are my first child to leave the nest and I am learning how to reconcile my heartbreak with my pride.  Both emotions are strong and are battling for victory.

Last night, you captured a heartfelt but selfish comment from me.  When I said that I don’t like the new you, I misspoke.  I love all versions of you.  What I dislike is the feeling that my world is changing so drastically and so quickly.  You are living life your way, not my way, as it should be.  I envision myself grasping for the rope that tethers your boat to the dock.  But your ship is ready to sail.

You are branching out toward unfamiliar experiences, taking advantage of the bounty of youth, and it’s difficult for me to watch.  But my skepticism is not an indication of the rightness or wrongness of your choices.  As you pointed out in defense, you are consciously taking risks and risks are essential to growth.

Principessa, I trust in your core values.  I believe your intentions are pure.  You don’t disappoint me.  And I could never think less of you.

Thank you for pointing out that it’s also hard for you to see yourself changing.  We know that change is essential and beneficial but it’s often scary.  Now that we’ve exposed our mutual fear and shined a light on it, it looks less daunting.  Let’s agree that we won’t let fear get the best of us.

You worry that you’ll become someone you don’t recognize.  It’s true that you’ll stray from the person you’ve been, but you can’t lose yourself.  There is a part in each of us that is connected to our source. It cannot be severed. You are, and always will be, uniquely you by divine design.

If you forget who you are, how special and precious, just ask me.  I will pour my love into your heart and remind you of your value. As always, I will be here, with arms outstretched, ready to catch you if you fall.

Loving you more than you can imagine,

Mom

dr seuss you

The Watered-Down Italian

italian heartOne can’t be Italian everywhere. I hadn’t realized this until it came out of my mouth as a disclaimer for my fire-y personality.

At an after-work gathering, I let my hair down and began to tell animated stories, sans censorship with plenty of wild gesticulations. I was rewarded with a circle of wide eyes, dropped jaws, and robust laughter. The collective response was one of surprise. ‘We had no idea about you,’ they remarked, and I hoped it was well-intentioned.

Being raised in a purebred family in a homogeneous environment, I was steeped in Italian culture. It was a generation during which travel or relocation outside of a 20-mile radius was unheard of. When I grew up and married a non-Italian, or ‘mutt,’ as he is affectionately referred to, it was a bit of shock to the system.

My first dinner with husband’s family in their dimly lit dining room with china place settings and soft music was a stark contrast to my own house with bright lights and multiple concurrent conversations. I distinctly recall the indigestion I suffered as a result of the undivided attention I received when speaking. Why did everyone stare at me? Attention felt like scrutiny, not respect. Thus we blended cultures, and to this day, struggle with our opposing communication styles.

Growing up Italian was a gift I took for granted. There is sense of security when one is enfolded in an expansive culture. Absent is the pressure to be anything other than oneself. Unlike some of my classmates who struggled to identify with a certain group during heritage week, I knew exactly who I was and where I came from. There was no ambiguity in my ancestry.

But as I aged and became self-conscious, the dilemma of trying to be acceptable in the world took over. I surrendered some of my passion in the name of political correctness. I tried not to scare people with opinions that had always flowed freely and without inhibition. I cut and pasted myself like a paper doll in order to ready myself for the world.

The arrival of children renewed my desire for cultural connection. I wanted to pass on the sense of security that comes from inclusion in a like-minded group. It hasn’t always been easy in a modern and blended family. My kids are watered-down Italians who, gasp, refuse to make homemade pasta with me. But they are proud of it none-the-less and eat it with enthusiasm.

We all look forward to our annual family reunion. It’s a time and place where Italians can be fully Italian and those that aren’t, (we call them wannabes), do their best to survive the level of intensity that radiates from a very passionate people.

I love my blended country in which cultural dividing lines are blurred enough to allow for inter-racial marriage. We combine the best and worst of many worlds and end up with a whole new set of people who are, hopefully, a little less exclusive and prejudiced. But I also love that I have a pedigree – even if it gets me into trouble once in a while.

Advice for the Graduate

hat tossing ceremony at graduation

hat tossing ceremony at graduation

Dear Graduate,

On this occasion we hear a lot, maybe too much, about perseverance and accomplishment.  We endure cliche speeches about blank slates and new horizons.  None of it is untrue.  This is the perfect time to turn regrets into opportunities as you start afresh.

I hope you will use this time to SEE your life, not judge it. Resist the urge to reflect on how you could have been or should have been different. You have always been perfectly you. There are no mistakes. You may want to do things differently in the future and that’s okay. But let the reason be because you love who you’ve become and what you’ve learned – not because you dislike who you used to be.

Be proud if you’ve succeeded in the classroom or on the field.  But be more proud if you’ve walked a path of integrity.  Have you been a good friend?  An honest worker?  A helper?  If you haven’t met with success in these ways, make this your new goal – to be a quality person in the world.  Of all the things you’ve learned over many years, this is the most important.  The world doesn’t care what you do – it has a job for everyone.  But it does need you to bring the best you’ve got.

Value what you’ve been taught but give yourself permission to unlearn.  Loosen your grip on core standards and cookie-cutter expectations.  Embrace the freedom of greeting each new experience with an open mind and a generous heart.

Graduation is magnanimous but it is not the last ending nor the last beginning.  You are an ever-evolving being in an every-changing world.  Stay present.  Let go.  Savor each moment lest you miss your life.

Graduate, you have finished a chapter of your life.  It was a big one.  Remember that it was only part of your story.  May your history inform your future only to the extent that it lends perspective on your choices.

I wish you success by your own measure; joy that cannot contain itself; and love that bursts forth from within you, reflecting in everything and everyone that surrounds you.

Mother’s Day-cation

I am alone at the lake on Mother’s Day weekend. It’s supposed to feel good to be away, rejuvenating. And it does – sort of. I’ve escaped the mayhem of a spring weekend full of sports events, social obligations and chores. Who could complain?

Peach felt personally wounded that her mother would want to be away from her on Mother’s Day. I assured her that I did want to be with her – for the part when I come home to a clean house and a cooked dinner. But that it was also important for me to remove myself from motherhood for a moment so I could get a good look at it.

So here I sit, at a house that once upon a time, bubbled with the activity of a young family. Little voices squealed at the break of dawn, begging to go swimming. Bigger voices chased them around, lit campfires, and made nature bracelets to pass the time. They would roast smores together and give sticky hugs and kisses. They would kayak and count stars, play cards and hike mountains.

Those days are gone. My babies are growing up and our time as a family is coming to an end. It sounds melodramatic but it’s true. Five in one room is a thing of the past. I’m trying to pretend I’m not sad; trying to avoid that cliche about it going so fast. But hot damn, it flew by and I’m gutted that it’s almost over.

I know I won’t stop being a mother when the kids leave the house. And yes, I’m grateful that they’re reaching their expected milestones. So I try my hardest to avoid silly tears. But when I stumble upon a forgotten baby monitor while Spring cleaning our lonely vacation house, I bust open. I couldn’t bring myself to move the toys that I found under the bed. I remember buying them for my 2 year old.

IMG_3972

When I was a stay-at-home mother, I made a promise to myself to maintain an identity. I feared the thought of becoming one of ‘those’ mothers whose lives were so entwined in their children’s lives that they fell apart when they were no longer needed. Unachieved goal, that one. No matter how much I’ve accomplished outside of mothering, nothing matters more to me than loving and caring for my little people.

Sometimes, I actually wish I didn’t love them so much. Because it hurts to let go. This is the dichotomy I’m stuck in.

Celebrating the milestones while mourning the foregone moments.
Dreading the work yet embracing the job.
Wanting my children close to me but craving peace and quiet.

It’s tearing me apart, this motherhood thing. And yet, it’s the very thing that makes me whole.
I can’t know if I’ve made the most of mothering. But mothering has definitely made the most of me.

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