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.

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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.

The Trouble With Teens

dishesSome days I want to be done parenting. I want to clock out – not just for the night, but forever. Deep down, beyond the drudgery, I know I don’t mean this. But when the well is dry like it is tonight, I can’t fathom where I will scrape up the energy to do it again tomorrow.

Husband saw that my mothering light was extinguished sometime between a power struggle over chores and a monotonous round of shuttling thankless teens to their activities. He took over with a threat, “No ride to the gym unless those dishes are washed!” Beagle didn’t budge.

“Did you hear me?” Husband said with a more aggressive tone, trying to penetrate the Beats headphones.

With a much-too-casual attitude Beagle replied, “You weren’t serious.”

This lit Husband’s fire and he exploded on a teen who very brazenly called his bluff. I wisely left the scene in anticipation of escalating emotion – I didn’t need to be in the vicinity to hear the fallout. And I thought it best to avoid bearing witness to a potential crime.

After a dramatic round of shouting and banging of pots and pans, Husband emerged victorious with his chest puffed up a bit, patting himself on the back for showing teen son who’s boss.

A male friend commented that he was glad he never had a son because he knows that he would butt heads with a boy in a much more destructive way than with his daughter. It would be physical and loud and ugly, he postulated – just like between me and my dad. And I would win, just like my dad did.

Really? Did Dad win? Did you love your father?

No.

Did you respect him?

No. I feared him.

Did you resent him?

Absolutely. And it made me rebel even more.

Case in point. There is no winner in war. Even if both sides agree on a victor of the battle, the silent war wages on. Grudge matches ensue; both sides unwilling to declare ultimate defeat.

The trouble with teens is that they excel in the art of power struggle. One would think that a parent would too. After all, parents are just teens of yore with more experience. But we are worn out and the game is old. Teens, on the other hand, seem to have a bottomless supply of energy for sparring. It emanates from a gland that no longer serves the parent.

I hated to ruin Husband’s victory dance in the kitchen, but he needed to know the truth. Teen son had washed the dishes as commanded to do, yes. But instead of using a sponge, he had washed them with the scrub brush that is used to clean the floor.  Zing.

Sixteen

16If you weren’t a sixteen year old boy and embarrassed by me, your uncool mother, I would dance in the car like I used to and you’d join me.  We’d purposely embarrass ourselves and laugh at the reaction of others.

If you weren’t sixteen you wouldn’t hide in your bedroom.  You’d seek me out to share stories and jokes and music with me – like old times.

If you weren’t sixteen I’d compliment you and you’d believe me.  You’d hug me and not get antsy when I say ‘I love you.’

If you weren’t sixteen you’d admit that you get scared sometimes and would look to me for comfort.  You’d ask my opinion and not have to pretend that my words of wisdom mean nothing.

If you weren’t sixteen, you wouldn’t wear a perma-scowl to appear less sensitive than you are.  You’d allow yourself to feel.

But you are sixteen, like I once was.  I know what’s underneath that tough exterior of yours – the same generous heart, humorous spirit, and killer personality that I fell in love with so many years ago.  When you’re not sixteen anymore, these hidden gems will resurface.  People will marvel at the man you’ve become.  “Who knew?” they’ll remark.  A knowing smile will cross my lips, betraying my secret.  “I knew.” I will say.  A mother always knows.

 

Senior Year Stress – Not Just For Seniors

keep calm senior yearThere were multiple texts followed by a frantic phone call alerting me that the car keys were lost and Principessa needed to get to an appointment. I was expected to avert this crisis from work.

“Retrace your steps,” I advise.

“I DID!” Principessa screams.

I excuse myself from the drama and hang up the phone which allows me just enough thinking space to conjure the location of the keys from 20 miles away. Order and peace are restored.

This year promises to be rife with stress. Senior year of High School begets unprecedented tension.  College visits and applications consume us.  Marketing flyers from Universities threaten to take over our mailbox.  And senior ceremonies swallow our calendar, already.

One would think I’d be too busy to feel what’s happening. But sentimentalism strikes frequently and I am prone to waterworks of late.  Hence the trip to BJs for a bulk-pack of tissues.  There will be no shortage of mind-blowing moments this year.  I’m going to need the crying to empty me because I can’t possibly carry this level of emotion all year without releasing it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the porch lights have been left on all night by Principessa, AGAIN. The electricity policeman, AKA husband, is on a tear.  This scenario has become a ‘thing’ between them.   On occasion, I jump out of bed early to shut off the lights, hoping to stave off the inevitable scene.  This morning I miss my chance and husband airs his grievance to me.

“Stop,” I plead. I don’t want to hear it.  This cycle has a definite end.  Next year, when Principessa is at college, the light will not be on in the morning.  In fact, it won’t be left on when we go to bed because she won’t be coming home!

I will pause as I pass the front window, noticing without quite knowing what it is, that something is not right. A subtle feeling of emptiness and longing will creep in as I gaze at the darkness outside.  I will crawl into bed with a nagging pang in my heart and pray that wherever Prinicpessa is, she’ll get in safely.

I may notice that the place where Prinicpessa’s shoes would be dropped will be clear. And there will be no piled-up laundry to aggravate me.  I will miss the very things that presently annoy me.  Their absence will be a constant reminder that my nest is short one bird.  Cue the waterworks and the silent scream.

When I allow myself to travel down the no-good path of resistance to life, I struggle for air. It is difficult transitions like this that make the decision to be a parent seem downright reckless.  How could I have agreed to subject myself to the inherent risk of such immense love?  And to the pain of letting go?

It’s easy to forget that life is happening exactly as it should. Principessa is a gift that never belonged to me – one that I helped to ready for the world. Her time has come.  I cannot begrudge the beauty of that.

Father of the Year

hammock (2)I made a mistake – the kind that hurts the people you love.  It happened when I got lazy with my words and insulted husband in front of our daughters.  It started innocently with a conversation about Principessa’s birthday request last year – to take a surfing lesson with Dad.  Neither had surfed before but husband easily picked up the skill, like most agility-related things he tries.  Peach remarked that she’d like to learn to surf and would like to take a lesson.  “No need,”  her sister remarked, “Dad can teach you.  He was really good.”  To which I absentmindedly replied, “Maybe not.  He’s a horrible teacher.”  Ouch.

Husband got angry.  I got defensive.  Later that night, having managed to strip myself of stubborn pride, I sat us all down for an apology.  It was a teachable moment at my expense about taking responsibility for one’s words and attitudes.  All this to say that my transgression made me reflect on husband with less of an ‘I’ve been married for 19 years and have earned the right to say what I want’ mentality, and more of a compassionate ‘Look at the magnificent man I just threw crap at!”  (This, the same man who tried to teach me to snowboard and almost knocked my teeth out with his knee, which is why  I say he’s a terrible teacher.  But I digress.)

Husband is the man who, when accused by the teenaged Principessa of being disconnected from her, Googled articles on fathers and daughters to better understand how to mend their relationship from her point of view.  Despite his efforts, Principessa holds tight to her assessment.  I’m led to believe by parenting experts that this is normal separation-type behavior and completely age-appropriate.  Whatever, it’s still frustrating.

Because Principessa doesn’t know what a great dad she has. I’m fairly certain that my father didn’t research ways to connect better with me. The parenting standards were different.  An elderly friend offered this generational divide – she said she had a good father, one who didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t beat her.  Oh yes, and he didn’t give her away when her Mom died.  Lucky girl.

When Principessa pulled her wild card – the one that reminds us that she has only one year left in our house before college so we better appreciate her  – husband called her bluff.  He proposed a year-long commitment between the two of them.  During the 52 weeks until Principessa graduates, they would commit to one day per week to do something together – just the two of them.  He did the math out loud, “That’s 26 ideas apiece. Sunday nights.  You and me.”

It sounded a bit like husband was challenging Principessa to a street fight, but she accepted the terms nonetheless.  I sensed nervousness on both sides.

As you can imagine, it’s been a rough start.  Finding time is always a challenge.  But neither are willing to surrender.  They bake together, go out for ice cream, exercise….and they sometimes argue.  But at the end of the day, they’ve made a deposit into their relationship bank account.

I suspect that the significance of husband’s efforts will bounce fruitlessly off of Prinicipessa’s  surly attitude.  Like a typical teen, she’d die before she’d release her claims that Dad is uncool.  Lucky for him, teenhood is not a permanent condition.  I envision a day – far, far, away – when Principessa will reflect on this time with appreciation.  “We had such fun!” she’ll say.  Husband will repress his desire to strangle her and will reply, “Why yes, we did.  We always had fun.”

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Prom Chronicles

prom 3Prom talk had become a focal point of our nightly dinner conversation.   The first of Principessa’s friends to be invited to prom had no romantic story to share, but rather a comical rendition of boy meets girl.

I imagine it started weeks earlier in the mind of a boy who had never spoken to the pretty girl in class that he admired.  One day, with stomach churning, blood rushing to the face, and the room spinning, the boy popped the question, “Will you go to prom with me?”  Fear made it difficult for the boy to hold his position long enough to hear a response.  He may faint.

“Sure,” the girl answered.  “Can I have your phone number?”

The boy hardly registered the answer or the question; his ears were thumping from a pounding pulse.  The otherwise simple task of recalling his phone number proved to be too much.  The boy had exhausted himself.  Later, please.

Brave on the boy.  And on the girl.  Double brave on the girl who asked a boy and got rejected.  Prom is not for sissies.

Having survived my own proms, I enjoyed watching this one from my mother seat.  I was very practical, I thought, by not getting swept up in the nonsense.  Until the big day…

No one was more shocked than me when I welled up.  Crying isn’t my thing, especially in public.  But the sight of my first-born looking all grown up was too much for a sentimental soul.  I used to loathe the cliché ‘they grow up so fast.’  But it’s true what they say about time flying.  When you arrive at a transition point like this, your history of parenting fades so quickly, it’s as if it never happened.

I hold my hands up, one directly in front of the other, to illustrate my point to Principessa.  “It’s like the memory – no, the feeling – of holding you for the first time is here, right next to the sight of you in your prom dress.  It’s THAT close.  And THAT overwhelming.  It’s as if all those years between birth and now are condensed to mere milliseconds.

If you had asked me hours before if my daughter could matter more to me than she already does, I would have said, “No, I can’t imagine how.”  And yet, watching her walk away with a boy, she somehow mattered more.  It’s like there’s a scale from 1 to 10 and I would have sworn that she mattered to me with a 10.  But then I contemplate sending her into the world and suddenly my heart is filled with a 5000 kind of mattering.

I am in grave danger of ‘losing it’ when husband makes a joke.  I manage to pull up my big girl britches and remind myself that Prinicpessa is not gone.  She is not dying or even moving out of the house – yet.   More importantly, she is not moving out of my heart – EVER.  She has rented space in my physical world for 16 years.  But she has purchased a space in my heart for life.  In this space, she will never leave me.

This one thought gets me to midnight when Principessa returns home, sans shoes like Cinderella.  “It was like a dream,” she said.   We smiled at each other and I kissed her goodnight as I have thousands of times.  And yet, it was like kissing her for the very first time.

Letter For New School Year

kindergartenDear Beagle,

It’s the start of another school year and your first year of High School.  Wow!  Remember that first day of kindergarten?  The teachers put you on the bus by mistake when I was planning to pick you up.  We were both so scared. We’ve come a long way since then.

I bet you’re glad to be in the home stretch.  You haven’t always been the biggest fan of school.  But this is IT – the period of time when you’ll gather stories that you’ll share in reminiscent conversations for the rest of your life.  ‘When I was in High School….’

You may love this school year or hate it.  You may have a teacher who doesn’t ‘get’ you, or a friend who breaks your trust.  But you will also cross paths with kind people and brave people and people who appreciate your sense of humor.  Love them all.  Be inspired by every experience – even the ones that make you want to scream.  Because this is real life – a bunch of experiences that make you want to cringe or to celebrate.  All of them are a pile of gifts just waiting to be opened by you.  Life is waiting to see what you’ll do with these gifts.

School might seem like a place that you have to go to.  I get that.  You can’t wait to be done, to be free in the world to make your own choices.  But the truth is, you’re already free.  Each day that you show up for life, you have choices.  You get to choose whether you’re miserable or happy.  You choose to be kind or to be mean.  You choose to do the work that is asked of you or not.  Every choice that you make tells the world who you intend to be.

Dad and I don’t send you to school hoping you’ll be the smartest or funniest or coolest.  We don’t care if you’re picked for a team or invited to parties.  We don’t hope you’ll be the best at anything because we already love you completely.  You can’t earn more of our love or lose any of it.  That’s the way it is.

We send you to school to experience life.  To practice being you in a sea full of people.  To learn how to be brave and disciplined.  To make mistakes and learn to forgive yourself.  To discover your hidden talents and maybe some limitations too.

Take care of yourself this year, Beagle.  And your classmates and teachers too.  You’re all together in this thing called school.  Dad and I are here to support you.  We will always be your biggest fans.

Love,

Mom

Love In Hiding

love is blindA woman says of her struggling marriage, ‘Love is supposed to be easy.’  Oh, really?  Where did you get that cockamamie idea?

Perhaps I might have agreed when I was sixteen and fell head over heels for the first boy who returned my affection.  But in a month’s time, a breakup occurred and love ceased being easy.  Love, I learned, could be cruel and uncomfortable.  It could also be thrilling and rewarding.  But never easy.

To be fair, it’s not love itself that is hard.  Life just makes it look that way.  It’s hard to see through the smoke screen of work and stress and disappointment and failure.  Love doesn’t make a ready appearance in the sassy child or the nagging spouse or the demanding boss.  But it is there for the taking.

Love is the reason one puts up with the nonsense of life.  It is the motivation to hold things together –  the reward at the end of the struggle.  Love is not the magic potion that makes the messy disappear, replacing it with perpetual sunshine and butterflies.  Love is the place you try to return to every time life pulls you out to sea.

A mother whose daughter was away at camp wondered, ‘Is it bad that I don’t miss her?  Does it mean that I don’t love her?’  Again, I ask, really?

Love doesn’t have to mean wanting to spend twenty-four hours a day with someone.  Love cannot be defined in neat little packages like this.  It refuses to look a certain way or act a certain way.  It simply cannot be contained in a defined set of parameters.

We have an expectation that love is the bandaid to life.  We count on it to protect and heal even when we’ve turned away.  We slip into the habit of placing love in a corner and ignoring it whilst we charge through life, full of expectations.  In the process of living, we may trick ourselves into believing that a new someone or a new something is more lovable than the old something we already have – the one that has lost it’s shine.  We gravitate toward new love like moths to a flame and realize, wen we get really close, that we can still get burned.  A flame is a flame.  Love is love.  It does not change.

Love itself is constant and accessible.  It will not demand entrance in places that we have closed off.  But if it is invited, right here and now, with the person you think you’ve forgotten how to love, it will come back.  It has to.  For it does not make its own choices.  Love only responds to our invitation.

Unsticking the Stuckness

oh-the-places-youll-go“I feel stuck,” she whined.  “It feels like everyone is moving forward without me.  This one is dating, that one is achieving, and I….I am going sideways.”

Principessa is in the Waiting Place –  that frustrating place in the Great Balancing Act of Life.  I remember when the Waiting was a place I loathed.  I too, was a teen itching for excitement and forward motion.  These days, as a parent, the ‘nothing is happening’ place is a welcome reprieve from the ordinary chaos.   It represents safety and calm.  Not so for an eager teen teetering on the edge of the nest.  She is percolating with frustration and worry.

I ask Principessa to look at the bare-limbed trees outside.  They are resting.  Months ago they dropped their leaves in order to preserve energy for the Spring revival.  The trees didn’t worry when they lost their leaves because they knew that their season to shine would come around again.  They just had to be patient.

But it’s hard to believe in seasons when you’re a teen.  NOW is where it’s at.  I. Want. It. NOW.  Which is just another version of ‘I’m not enough as I am.’ Whenever I hear this ‘not enough’ story, (including from myself,) I follow with the question, “Not enough for whom?”

We could spend a lifetime chasing ourselves with a stick, slinging accusations and pointing out failures, which is essentially what we do when we entertain self-criticism.  We think that comparison keeps us motivated to achieve.  We are convinced that without ‘not good enough’ we are in danger of falling behind.  In truth, the only purpose it serves is to keep us in a perpetual state of anxiety.

Long ago I read this bit of wisdom:  Perhaps the question is not, ‘How can I be who I want to be?’ but rather, ‘How can I want to be who I am?’  Loving the self is tricky business.  Contentment is often confused with complacency or vanity.

I remind Principessa to stay in her own lane and keep her eyes on the road.  If your attention is on the person who’s passing you and you’re worried about falling behind, who’s driving your life?

My words of wisdom barely hold the teen tears at bay.  In a final attempt at rescuing Principessa from herself, I gather her in a cuddle and begin to read to her for the first time in many years.

Somehow you’ll escape

All that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bright places

Where Boom Bands are playing.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,

As you already know.

You’ll get mixed up

With many strange birds as you go.

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

Kid, You’ll move mountains!

I felt Principessa’s body lighten.  “I never understood this book when I was little.  Now I do.” she said quietly, then leaned in for a kiss.

Thank you, Dr. Seuss, for getting the job done.  You were a genius!

How To Be A Parent

babyA young mother-to-be said with despair, “Only three weeks left to figure out how to be a mother!”

Oh, sweet new momma, I am still trying to figure that out fifteen years later.  I don’t mean to scare you, but this is the truth.

You will find your groove, yes, and figure out the basics like which type of diapers you prefer and where to find the sales on baby food.  But even if you become a mother twenty times over, uncertainty will remain.  Because just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the rules change, or the kids change, or you change.

You will make more mistakes than you’re willing to count.  Like, for instance, letting your six year old eat the party favor that you swear is white chocolate but is actually decorative soap.  (Yes, I did that.)

You will realize after several hundred of these foibles that a sense of humor is an essential item to pack in the diaper bag.  And it is precisely these times that earn you a notch in your parenting stick.  These falls from grace won’t guarantee that your next act will be seamless, but they will remind you that you can do the hard job of parenting AND live to tell about it.

If you are a ‘good’ parent you will never enjoy the smugness of certainty.  You will doubt every major and some minor decisions, feel guilty about others, and learn something new every day.  Early on you may learn that you shouldn’t play airplane with a baby who has just eaten lest he spit up in your mouth.  (That was husband, not me.)  Later, you may learn that you are not above ditching your child in a grocery store when she shouts, “Why is that lady so fat?”  And you will be anointed with humility when your little one declares aloud in church, “Mommy, you tooted!”

I wish my gift to you could be a key to the Parenting Answer Box.  But in my heart I know that if there was such a key to be given, it would ruin the whole experience.  If you had all the answers and didn’t crumble in despair once in a while, you’d never know the sweetness of vulnerability.  Just when you think you can’t go on, your little one reaches up to wipe a tear from your eye and says, “I wuv you, Mommy.  Pwease don’t cry.”  Renewed afresh, your heart fills up and you rise from the ashes.

When we stop banging on the door of certainty, demanding reprieve from the worry and fear of parenting, we realize that we are not alone.  Looking around, we find ourselves amidst the stories of millions of parents before us who stood exactly where we now stand, unable to break through the barrier of doubt.

There is no pot of gold at the end of the child-rearing rainbow.  And the treasure is not what you think it is.  It is not an honors student who never got arrested, never sassed his parents, and never skipped out on chores.  Nor is it a perfect parenting record that is envied by your fellow retirees.  The gift is simply this:  THE EXPERIENCE – good, bad, or otherwise.

Some day you will look back and wonder how you survived.  You will also continue to question your choices long after the children are grown.  But with any luck, you will have learned at least, to abandon blame and shame in favor of forgiveness and gratitude.  You dared to take on the title of parent in the name of love, despite your humongous fears, and did the best you could.

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