In My Mother’s Voice

In a discussion with friends the other day, a question was asked as a sort of “prompt” to get a philosophical conversation flowing. I can’t remember it word for word now, but it was basically, “have you ever said something that sounds just like your mother, and what did you think about that?” Most of us in this particular group are mothers ourselves and so many of the examples given had to do with disciplining a child or frustration at a child. There were a few offerings of phrases most often uttered when life throws a curve ball or in the alternative, when something fantastic happens.

It was an interesting mental and emotional exercise in many ways.

Shockingly – or perhaps not – the thing that popped up immediately in my mind was, are you hungry? have you eaten today?”  I could hear it in my mother’s voice as I thought it, but not just hers. I heard it in my grandmother’s voice, my aunts’ voices, my great-aunt’s voice, and other women in my family … a conglomeration of concerned motherhood was echoing in my brain.

Afterwards, I got to thinking, what a wonderful thing to write about! And you know what? It is. I went back through my past work and lo and behold! I had already put pen to paper on this subject.

Sometimes love isn’t simply “I love you.”  Sometimes it’s “are you hungry? have you eaten today?”

Feed Me (Originally Written in April 2014)

The overwrought parent. It’s an ageless and timeless trope that has been milked for easy jokes on dozens if not hundreds of sitcoms for decades now. The kids come home from college and the mom immediately rushes up to her son or daughter, clawing at their clothing while wailing about how they’re nothing but skin and bones. The mom then makes it her duty to whip up a hearty dinner of meat stew and potatoes to try to fatten her kids up before sending them back off to that barren wasteland known as University.

How many times have I rolled my eyes whenever I saw a mother portrayed that way? I’d think to myself, The kids are fine. Settle down. They’re 20 years old; they know how to find food for the love of God! Little did I know that I was bound for the same fate; my course having been set even before I was born, and now I have finally arrived at that echelon of motherhood teeming with irrational anxiety that for some reason my kids have lost any ability to live independently and will die without my assistance.  Whew. Okay. Breathe.

My grandmother used to always push food on us like we had been locked in the Oliver Twist orphanage for decades on end. The funny thing is that she didn’t do this to us when we were kids, only when we were full-fledged grown-ups coming to visit. I guess that as a child she figured my mom would ensure we were fed. Maybe she thought the older I got, the less likely I would be lucky enough to find someone willing to give me food (because for some reason I don’t have the ability to do it myself). So, me as an adult, I’d come by to say hello and she’d cook (always) and even insist that I take food with me for the road trip home.

I remember she did the same thing to my mother after our visits in the summer. A sandwich for the road… biscuits for later… a piece of that fine ham she had for dinner. It was simply impossible to leave the house without something wrapped in foil or stuffed in Tupperware.

Her sister, my great-aunt Bunny, was the same way. I guess that should come as no surprise, since they were raised by the same woman, Grandma Mooney of the Vinegar Valentines, who also had an obsession with making sure people were fed. Back when I was a kid, we’d visit my Aunt Bunny every Sunday and sure enough, we always left with something in hand.

Then it was my mom’s turn. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but she hit a certain age and boom, she fell right in step. Sometimes when I leave her house after a visit it’s like I was just at the Whole Foods store. Balanced in my arms are loaves of bread, canned goods, sweets, and frozen meat (yes, frozen meat). Bless her heart.

Ridiculous, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought.  But the virus has taken over my brain too! My poor son. He’s 22 — a man in the eyes of the law and the world — and has moved into his own place, but he’s still in that “new adult” stage; scraping for cash, trying to get on his own two feet. When he comes to visit I feel that it is my maternal obligation to fill his belly with as much food as I can. I constantly tell him to ransack the place, rummage through the cupboards, take anything. I’m pushing food on him like the generations of mad women before me.

Except now I understand that it’s not that we don’t have faith that our kids can live on their own…it’s just that if we know they’re fed…if we can do that one small thing for them… then we figure they can handle the rest of life on their own. And really, money does play a part in it. I would rather my son ransack my cabinets than live on only Ramen for the week. I know my mom feels the same way about me and that’s why she lets me grocery shop in her cupboards.

We can’t solve all of their problems and we can’t “fix” everything no matter how much we want to. But we can feed them. We can make sure that one primary need is filled. So we can worry about them a little less. Knowing that makes me feel a little less crazy. A little.

But, I Hope …

I saw this article today. It made me sad in so many ways … I could fill my blog for years discussing this topic. The writer, a special-ed teacher, explained, in no uncertain terms, that should there be a shooter at her school, she would not die for the children in her class as she did not want to die herself. She wants to go home to her own kids. She wants to be there for her family, her parents, her siblings. She wants to live. I mean, really, who doesn’t? She discussed at length how much she puts herself out for the kids in her care, how she worries over them, guides them, helps them … basically everything any good teacher does, that, to her, seems award worthy (okay, she didn’t say that, it was just my take on her tone).

However, when it comes down to it – when called upon to protect her charges, she would be hiding in the supply closet (her class’ go-to place in an active shooter event). Oh, not to keep the children who were lucky enough to make it in there with her safe, but to keep herself safe. She ended the article with a curt “I won’t save your child.” I have no doubt whatsoever that she means it.

I’m not a teacher. I don’t have to participate in active shooter drills or instruct a room full of kids on what to do in a life-threatening emergency. Ex-husbands and creepers aside, I’ve never experienced anything more threatening than a crowd-filled fight and being trapped in the perimeter … squashed in like cattle – no guns involved.

But.

I hope … I would sincerely hope … that if I were thrown into a sadly-not-so-unthinkable scenario, that I would do what I could to protect the children around me. Yes, I want to come home to my kids and my family … hell, I just want to come home to my dog. I have people who love me and count on me and I think, need me. Not counting those in my familial circle who would like to see me stick around, in a purely selfish sense, I do not want to die.

But.

I hope my ever-present compassion would come to the fore. I can’t imagine being in a situation where children are at risk of dying and not helping in any way that I could. I’m only human. Maybe if the time came, I would choke. I don’t know. I’ve never been called upon to do anything at all of greatness.

But.

I hope I could make a difference in this world. In my heart of hearts, I have faith that I would rise to the occasion and save a child whose life hasn’t even yet begun, whether they are mine or not, whether I know them or not.

Personally, the idea of slamming a door shut in the face of a child to save myself, not to mention a child that I see every freakin’ day … a child that I taught to read, a child whose shoes I tied, a child whose future I helped mold, is abhorrent to me. Oh, I can’t say as I completely blame this teacher for her way of thinking (I mean, I do, but still …). After all, she is living with the very real prospect of death every day, given our current climate of school shootings. So, it’s easy for me to say what I would and wouldn’t do as I go back and forth to my relatively safe job.

But.

I hope I would do the right thing. My intentions are there. Of course, we all know what road the best of intentions pave. It’s easy to say that I would jump out in front of a bus – or a bullet – to save anyone, let alone a child. However, when it came right down to it … would I make that leap? It goes without saying that if it were MY kids, that leap of faith would be as natural as breathing.

But.

I hope that when faced with an impossible decision in a horrific situation where kids were in danger, that I would make my own children proud … that I could face my death – or life – with the knowledge that I not just aspired to greatness, but truly achieved some small semblance of it through the life of a child.

I just know that when push came to shove, if I were the one coming out the other side … at the cost of a young life I, myself, could have saved and deliberately chose not to … well, I’m not sure there would ever be light or joy in my own life again. It’s certainly not a life I would want to live.

Old Habits Die Hard

So there I was, standing in line at the grocery store, actively – albeit, unconsciously – comfort-swaying, with an imaginary baby on my hip.

Me: *minding my own business, swaying*

Obviously new mother behind me with tiny baby in what looks like a custom-made seat just for a grocery cart, covered in a cute dolphin-inspired blankie:  *giggles loudly in my direction*

Me: *heavy sigh* Great. Here we go. She’s going to talk to me.

New mother (in an overly cute, mom-conspiratorial tone): I guess that sway becomes a habit, doesn’t it?

Me: *confused, deer in the headlights look that I always get when random people approach me for conversation in public*

Me: *it finally hits me just what the hell she’s talking about*  Ummm…

New mother: Where is the wee one … ?

Me: Well, ummm… I have two children …

New mother with completely unnecessary glee: Oh! That’s wonderful!  How old are your dear little things?

Me:  26 and 19.  As in years. Not months.

New mother: *looks both confused and aghast*

Me: Yeah, habit … you have no idea.

Okay, so I can’t be the only mother of grown children who still comfort-sways when standing in line…right?  Right!?

Growing up ain’t all it’s cracked up to be – for the Mother

Getting old sucks. Can we all just agree on that? Joints get achier. Skin gets looser. Lines form. It’s just a big ol’ mess. Sure, it’d be tougher to run a mile now than when I was 18 (if I ran at all, that is), but getting older isn’t all bad. Whenever I get a little down about the sands of time slipping through the hourglass, I can always look at my children and know that I’ve helped mold two people I could not be more proud of. They’re tolerant, compassionate, empathetic, decent, and just all around good human beings. So at least there’s that, I say to myself as I find yet another grey hair. These two are my crowning achievements, my purpose in life.

And, goodness, how fast time does fly! My son graduated high school 7 years ago and it feels like yesterday. Now, just like that, my daughter is graduating this week. It feels like that time passed in the blink of an eye. If there’s one thing I can criticize both her and my son for (and trust me, I do), it’s that they can both be rather disobedient. I told them years ago to stop growing, to just stay little, but they refused to listen. So, here I am, once again at the threshold of another child receiving a diploma. If they would just listen to their wise ol’ mother, we wouldn’t be in this mess again. On the contrary, we’d still be happily shopping in the Garanimals section of the department store with nary an argument on color or style to be had. Alas, time waits for no man. Or mother.

my baby

On top of graduating, my daughter also turns 18 in a few days. I know, right!? How dare she!? It’s quite the milestone and I wish the world for her. Not just in a philosophical “best of luck” kind of a way. I mean literally, I want her to have the world. To explore. To see new things. To travel. To meet new people. To let life be an experience with the entire world as the garden she frolics through. She is no doubt destined for great things, but I want her to delight in the path she chooses, to walk it with a profound sense of joy as well as purpose. Neither she nor her brother have yet to disappoint. I don’t expect either to start now.

not such a baby any more…

So while it does suck getting old, it’s kind of worth it when you see what you’re letting loose on the world.

A Shameful Cycle of Shaming

These days, it seems like every mom with a computer becomes an immediate motherhood professional. From website to blog and back again, these moms pour out their wisdom and advice.  I find myself marveling at the wealth of information I can find in any one of these sites, and also the ridiculous amount of judgmental bull crap that I read in nearly every one.

On one site, a mother proudly proclaims she let little Junior cry himself to sleep last night; best decision she ever made and just who the hell in their right mind co-sleeps anyway?  In another article on the same site, a mom is complaining praising herself because she slept in a rocking chair all night, soothing her baby to sleep and why on earth would anyone in their right mind let their baby cry it out?  Both are shaming the other in their storytelling, while complaining that they are being shamed for their own choices.

It’s not so much the contradictory advice I constantly see (sometimes in the same damn blog) that bothers me.  It’s the sheer hypocrisy I see from some of these New Age Mothers. This “newer, softer” generation of parents are outraged at anyone who dares to judge them for their parenting techniques. They shame the “mommy shamers,” brutally. They encourage the battle cry “mothers unite!” and push hard against those who have the audacity to judge other parents.  This in and of itself is a very good thing.  Mothers SHOULD stick together.

I guess these writer-moms must be exempt from their own outrage, though, not to mention their own rules, because every other article I’ve seen is a harsh judgement against parents who think differently from whatever parenting protocol they happen to be writing about. When they run out of “their words,” they resort to memes to make their point.

When I’m navigating my way through these “Mom” groups and see memes outright mocking so-called “helicopter” parents or zingy little one-liners criticizing those with only one child (because apparently, they’re not actual “parents”), I think to myself:  For a group who berates mommy-shamers, you guys sure do a lot of shaming of your own. Why do you care how others parent their children so long as they’re loving and caring, and not abusive?  Isn’t mocking someone else’s parenting technique the very thing you get angry about, or is that just when others do it to you? Alas, I get no answers to my questions since the inquiring voice is only in my head.

Now as I’m sure you know, I’ve never been one to say I won’t judge. Hell, I do it all the time. Oh, I won’t judge you on your looks, your education, your job, your religion or anything of that nature, and I won’t judge someone doing the best they can with what they have.  BUT, I will judge you on being a hypocrite. I may judge you for white shoes after Labor Day, not stopping at the crosswalk, or for using the Express Lane with eighteen items, and I will definitely judge you for being a jerk, a bully, or an asshole.  It’s part of my charm. But some of these writer Moms are caught in an endless shaming cycle. While they decry those who judge them on their parenting choices, in the next breath they shame others for choosing a different path for their kids. You can’t have it both ways.

Bottom line, despite the competitive nature of the world, raising kids should not be a game or a contest, and if your child is growing up healthy, polite, and able to function respectfully in society, then congratulations.  You’re doing it right.  It’s a wise mother that knows there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to raising kids; it’s mostly just a hell of a lot of trial and error and making shit up as you go along.

Choose your parenting path, and travel it proudly.  You do need to take ownership, though, and realize that if you choose to judge – those you are judging will be judging you right back.

Extra Income

Too bad it’s all in i.o.u.’s. Although they should come in handy if and when my kids become best-selling authors, popular video game creators, respected historians, or win the lotto. Believe me, I’ll be cashing those suckers in then! By the time they have their own families, I’ll be a gazillionaire, with accompanying royalties expected well into my golden years.

 

I saw this online (uncredited) and found out it was a blog right here on WordPress...check it out by clicking the pic!

I saw this online (uncredited) and found out it was a blog right here on WordPress…check it out by clicking the pic!

My Son (or Paul Bunyan Redux)

A carnival gypsy once told me that the love of my life would be tall, dark and handsome.  Somehow she failed to mention he would arrive on the waves of excruciating labor pains.  Now, 23 years later to the day, my son can legally buy alcohol, towers over me, and resembles Paul Bunyan.    He’s out on his own and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Still, whenever we talk, I oftentimes offer unsolicited advice.  No, really, I do.   Other mothers do this too, right?  Right??  Well of course Jake’s response is usually one borne of frustration because, according to him, I’ve not kept up with his birthdays all these years and therefore don’t know just how old he is.  My response is one he will never understand until he has kids of his own – he’s always my baby regardless of how old he may be.  Or how tall.  Or how thick a beard he decides to grow (I mean really, you do own a razor after all Jake!).

And many times during these mutually frustrating conversations, a mental picture of him will pop into my head.  Like when he and I went outside to play in the yard like maniacs during a freak midnight snowstorm when he was 4.  Or when he was a very convincing snowman in a school play at the age of 5.  Or as a 6 year old on a trip to Luray Caverns….which is actually a pretty cute story and one that I go to often in my mental rolodex of memories because it never ceases to make me smile.

We used to make the trek to Luray Caverns every year, sort of a family tradition.  These trips were always a great time.  For those not familiar with the area, near Luray is another set of caverns touted as “The Endless Caverns.”  To me, that sounds sort of horrible. The idea that you could possibly get lost and never find your way out of the dark, stone tunnels, eventually succumbing to starvation with your body going undiscovered for maybe centuries didn’t fill me with a great amount of intrigue.  Sort of like an “always erupting volcano” or “constantly snowing tundra.”  Okay fine, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic….but hey, it could happen.

Well, on this particular trip when we passed one of the billboards emblazoned with “Endless Caverns” Jake asked just what “endless” meant.  Remember, he’s only 6 at the time so he was still trying to figure out the intricacies of the English language which can be tough on anyone.  Being the vocabulary nut I am, I was thrilled to explain to him “Well, Jake, endless means that something doesn’t have an end…. never-ending.”

This is where I have to take a small sidebar and let you know that my husband’s running compliment for me at that time was “hot.”  It could also be interpreted as a running joke.  And having the goofy mentality that my husband did he was always coming up with a “you’re so hot…” comment.   As in “You’re so hot you make lava look cool.”  I know, I know….but what can you do?  I married him anyway.  Not sure what that says about me, all things considering.

So, back to the story….as the meaning of “endless” registered with Jake, he perked up and said, “Oh, so it’s like you. You’re hotless.  Never-ending hot.”   Why yes, Jake.  That’s exactly what it means.

To this day I hold that small, innocent remark in my heart as one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.  Not because it’s true and certainly not because Jake fully understood “hot” as it related to women,  but because it came straight from his beautiful, ever loving six year old heart as meaning something special.  Jake will never understand that when I look at him, I still see that wide-eyed, precocious boy who stole my heart the day he was born.   I don’t think that will ever change.  And quite frankly, I hope it never does.

Although seriously…. a razor wouldn’t hurt now and then.

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jake pier

jake and shaylee

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