Happy Mother’s Day, dear Emery.

Welcome to the world, Arlo John Golson.

It’s a bit early for my Mother’s Day post, but this mother and very recently, new grandmother, can wait no longer. This is always my favorite blog post to write because I don’t have to search for words or experiences or stories to share as they seem to be just itching to come out and honestly, it is the one post that almost writes itself – directly from the heart.

31 years from the date when I first became a mom, my daughter, Emery,  followed suit and gave birth to her first child.  Besides the miracle of the 7.8 ounce beautiful bundle of boy that she brought into the world that night, it also feels like a bit of a miracle to me that we now share that very special anniversary of our entrance into motherhood and for that reason,  I’m directing this blog post to Emery, in celebration of her first Mother’s Day.

Welcome to the world of motherhood Emery Jane Golson.

To my beautiful, new Mama, Emery,

Your 7 pound 8.50 ounce beautiful bundle of baby boy not only added “Mom” to your list of names,  but is also the miracle who will change everything in your life –  from who you are to the way you view the world and everything you hold dear.  On this Mother’s Day, your very first, take a moment to pause and honor yourself and the amazing journey you have begun.  Although you earned your ranks into this holiday late into the evening on the 30th of April as you rolled 10 hours of labor into another 4 hours of pushing, your real entrance into motherhood began when you found out you were pregnant and I know you know that because of the tremendous care you gave to your growing belly.

I remember my first Mother’s Day, 31 years ago, relishing the moment while cradling a 2 week old baby in one hand and a half-poured glass of champagne in the other.  I was a brand spanking new, still wet behind the ears mom, stumbling through unshowered, sleep deprived days in stretched out maternity wear.  As clumsy as my navigating in this new role was, it felt comfortable and right and nearly perfect – almost like I had always been there. Feedings at 1:00 a.m., and 2:00 a.m. and eventually so often throughout the night that the night became day and the day became night became my new normal, but none of that mattered because my life had already surrendered to the sweet face that would look up to me during those feedings.  It was then, in those moments, that all in the world was right and perfect, even if it was 3:00 a.m. and I knew I’d be back in the same rocking chair, yet again, before sunrise.  Those morsels of goodness, I learned, are often hidden in the most tiring, and trying and “oh no, not now”… times of day.   When you understand that, you will understand biggest rewards of parenthood.

I know you well enough to know that you will become a mom who will teach and lead from the heart and baby Arlo will be a better person for that.  I was so determined to be the best mom I could that in those early weeks, I would thumb through stacks of parenting books while I nursed.   Looking back, I wish one of those books I gave so much credence to, would have told me to stop,  put the damn book down and simply savor the moment (but keep it on the shelf and resort to it when debating what next after sending said child to his/her room to think about what he/she had done.  And by the way, that doesn’t work.  If your child is anything like his grandma, he will only spend that time thinking about how to do it next time without getting caught).  It took me a few weeks, but I eventually did put the books down and followed my intuitions, which led to many years of fun-loving, make it up as I go along, trust my gut and lead with my heart, parenting.  You’re at an advantage.  You are already there.

I can tell you a whole lot of things that will likely happen to you as a new mom because they are somewhat universal, but you soon will come up with your own unique list.  Tears will flow, for no reason or for reasons that absolutely make no sense and you will have a tough time holding them in.   That tear valve seems to open up shortly after you give birth and I’m sorry to say, sweetheart, but it will never close again, but that’s OK, because in its opening, you are able to feel life and love deeper than you ever imagined before and that is more than worth some extra tears.  You will wake up more than the baby during your first several days at home, simply to check to see if he is still breathing and will feel relief when you feel his warm gentle breath on your hand. You will feel like an arm or a leg or some other vital part of you is missing if he is not tucked securely in your arms, and that, my dear new mama/daughter, is exactly what being a mom feels like.   Whether your baby is still nestled into your arms, or 857 miles away, you will always remember the feeling of when you first held him in your arms, how whole and complete and absolute perfect that moment was.   You’ve read my words more than once about my thoughts on the ever attached umbilical cord and even though you and your brothers are full grown adults, I still feel it.  In my case, it has stretched itself across the country to 3 different states ( I think life has given me extensions to the cords I have, simply for ease).  Even though you saw Arlo’s daddy cut his cord, believe me, it is still attached and there is some sort of comfort in that.  No doubt you feel it very strongly now, just days after his birth, and I can tell you right now that although that feeling will wane, it will never go away.  Ever.

This day is yours now and in a bittersweet yet joyous moment, I feel like I’m handing over the keys to the car to you and now you’re the one that gets to drive.  Make no mistake, I want to insure that there’s still room for me to hop on for the ride (I’ll ride in the back seat) and enjoy the journey with you, but you’re the driver now.  You and Miles.  You may have the keys, but don’t think that I’m tossing my mom card on the table with those keys as there’s still a whole lot of “sit up straight and eat your vegetables” in me… oh wait, you’re the one who tells me that.  Never mind.  But the mothering, my sweet daughter, will always be there for me although it will change and that’s OK and as it should be.  No doubt, I will offer opinions, give advice that’s not solicited and more times than you care to count, I will tell you how I handled this or that or the other thing and how it was the best idea, the worst idea or it wasn’t even worth qualifying, and you can heed those words or ignore them, but know that regardless,  they always will come from the heart.

Once you cross over into the sacred ground of motherhood, everything changes and you realize that you are a part of something that feels far bigger than the labor you went through to get there.  Many have come before you and many will follow and there’s a whole lot of “we’re all in this together” going on in the process of mothering.  It truly does take a village to raise a child and although you and Miles are his parents, there will be countless souls who will help shape the person he will become.  Even your sweet dogs, Leia and Olive and kitty, Regis, will have their roles.   I’m  speaking not only for myself here, but for so many other moms out there in saying, we’ve got your back.  Reach out when you need us.

I will always be your mother and you will always be my daughter, but now we’re entering into a whole new place given that we both are mothers now and that in and of itself is just about the most beautiful and perfect thing I can think of on this very first Mother’s Day for you. Into this gig just a handful of days and already I am marveling at the ease at which you have become a mom.  Your maternal instincts kicked in far before those hormones did with your first labor pains.  And speaking of labor pains… how appropriate of a word if there ever was one.  You labored hard to bring Arlo into the world.  This is the universe’s way of saying that this is no easy task that you have ahead of you and because of that, there is no painless entrance into your new role.  It’s not easy being a mom, but the 12 hours of raw pain you went through to bring Arlo into the world, is a pain that mothers will line up for two by two, time and time again, because of  the incredible miracle that awaits them on the other side. Your journey will have its share of difficult days but the good ones will by far out number the bad ones.  You will have days that you feel like you are swimming upstream in mud and it will be no easy stroke to maneuver yourself out of the mire, but you’ll figure it out and before you begin to physically slump into a human question mark, rest assured, dry land is never out of sight.  Again, the goods outweigh the bads and that I can tell you with 100% certainty.  You’ll stumble, you’ll fumble, you’ll eat a bag of chips with a salsa chaser for breakfast and will call pajamas clothes for more days than you care to admit and to that I say “do it.”  And do it again, and again and again,  because you deserve every morsel of not so healthy and every hour of long past time to get out of your jammies.  You’re a mom now.  Claim that right with pride.

Life  will change in ways you simply can’t predict and your own behaviors  may surprise you.  Case in point:  I wore slippers more than once to the grocery store, and my comment to your “Seriously???” comment was, “At least I didn’t wear my bathrobe…”  I scrounged dinners, even with your friends over, out of the door side of the fridge, i.e., condiments, simply because I didn’t have another trip to the grocery store in me and what the heck, you were kids, you wouldn’t remember.  Please tell me you don’t.  I slept in sleeping bags in a closet with your two brothers, both under the age of 3 and tried my best to simulate a campout, while ducking under hangers of clothes, small as they were, but campouts didn’t usually have hangered clothes overhead.

I let you skip preschool, multiple times, for field trips to wherever, while we ate cinnamon rolls bigger than our faces in the car, simply because it felt like the better idea.  I walked your 5-year-old self countless times through my gardens, while teaching you the names of the flowering shrubs and perennials, in Latin, because you were curious and wanted to know. We made trips to the goat pen at the petting farm a regular part of our routine, where you would fearlessly walk into the pens and feed them as if they were your own.  Now you live on a farm that has goats.  I can’t tell you how much that tugs at my soul to see those seeds of my early parenting with you germinate so beautifully.  THAT is what mothering is all about.

I turned our dining room into a grocery store, a school, a doctors office, a veterinarian’s office, a construction sight and a craft station because who wants to risk eating over anything that’s not sponge moppable when you have kids under the age of 5, I mean 17, and what we did was more fun anyway than eating in the dining room. I let you kids go deeper into the baking bowels of my kitchen than I ever did with pretend baking with measuring cups, and spoons and flour and sugar and cheap spices making mixes that never amounted to anything because I knew before you started that your interest would wane long before the oven even preheated.  I spent my after you went to bed evenings for 4 months in a closet building a Victorian doll house for you for Christmas but forgot to add the family who lived there so you were hardly impressed on Christmas morning, but I’d make one again in a heartbeat… this time,  family included.

This is the tip of the iceberg of memories, but it doesn’t end at childhood.  In later years, when your children are old enough to have their own children, it is possible that when your first grandchild arrives,  you just might show your waiter the lock screen on your phone, which of course will have the first picture of your new family, taken just hours after the birth of said grandchild, this of course before you even order.  You may feel like you have his attention at that point and what you have to show him is far more important than your salmon salad order, which he likely will hear several times during his shift, easy on the dressing and skip the bread.  This really and truly could happen. These are my stories but you’ll create countless stories and memories of your own, many out of pure desperation and mothering by the seat of your pants, but it will aways be the love that will stitch them together into memories you will cherish and laugh at and be embarrassed by, but above all, cherish.

You grew up with a mom who often felt like that frazzled, wild haired bus driver in the Magic Schoolbus series, which I greeted at the time with a sigh and a promise to myself to get it right the next time, but now, decades later and without apologies, I realize that the messy, the dirty, the not wearing the right shoes, or shoes at all and letting go of a whole lot of shoulds and coulds just maybe was one of the best gifts I gave you.  Already, just days into your new role as a mom,  I’m seeing some of those seeds germinate and that makes me smile.

I can’t end this letter without a big shout out to your partner in life and love, Miles.  His hands on fathering melts my heart.  What a lucky baby Arlo is to have you both as parents.

From one mother to another, I wish you the very best of everything and several consecutive hours of sleep this Mother’s day, dear Emery.  Only now that you are a Mom, can you begin to understand how much I love you.

And I do.  So much.

Mom/Laudie

Nesting. Birds and a baby.

My viewing perch and the place where I’m not doing laundry.
Nature…. she never gets it wrong.

Some of my anticipation was relived last week with a birth… baby birds, not a baby boy, but as an involved observer, I feel like I’ve got enough skin in the game (my door, my wreath),  to make the proud announcement. I’m not sure of the exact hatch date as I was out of town for a few days, but I left with eggs in the nest and came home to tiny, fuzzy-headed, baby robins.  My bigger anticipation is still actively working on me in my dreams, my thoughts and with every baby from newborn to toddler that I’ve seen for the past few months (always wondering is that what my grandson will look like???)  I’m anxiously awaiting while my subconscious  seems to be working hard at finding ways for me to satisfy my strong need right now to align with my maternal side. The baby belly I want to rest my hands on right now to feel any kind of movement or simply to connect,  is 677 miles away, so a robin with hatching eggs has come to my defense as a needed standby.

I found my family of robins while in the process of taking down my Christmas wreaths, 3 months past due, but this time my procrastination paid off.  I was half way to the basement with one of the grapevine wreaths, when I realized that there was a small nest with 5 blue eggs tucked into the back side of the wreath.  It was so perfectly formed that for a few seconds I wondered why in the world I would have attached a craft store piece to the back of my Christmas wreath.  I’ve had some crafts go wrong situations, but this one made no sense whatsoever.  Then it dawned on me… holy cow, it was real and I was the terrible person who was in the process of taking this beautifully constructed home and it’s five blue eggs down to my basement to shove it on an already full shelf of Christmas decorations.  The mom, who I’m sure flew away in fear when I whisked her home off the door,  had no doubt been tending to the eggs beforehand.  With extreme caution and much regret, I carefully paced the wreath back to my laundry room door and rehung it, then waited in hiding, for the mom’s return.  Thankfully she did return and I spent more time than I care to admit that day keeping watch over her and her growing family.  The way the nest was positioned on the wreath, I could only see her tail feathers but that was enough of a sign to me that all was well and she hadn’t rejected the nest or the eggs because of the human contact.  Every time she’d catch sight of me sneaking into my laundry room, it would send her flying away in fear, so I held off on doing any laundry, placed a step stool in front of the inside of the door and watched for eggs to become tiny heads peeking out, while she was out fetching food.  I have spent a lot of time simply standing on the stool and looking at the back of the nest while witnessing what little I could, of this incredible miracle of nature.  I think it has done my soul good.

During those nesting days, I also saw who I believed to be the dad (seriously, I have no idea how I came to that conclusion except for the fact that he looked rather proud as I’m guessing any soon to be new dad of some baby robins would be!) preening himself on a nearby rock.  After watching mom, tirelessly tending to those delicate eggs, I felt involved enough in the situation to give my opinion and actually stopped my car while pulling out of my drive way, looked him eye to eye (kind of), shook my head and said,

“Seriously?  Shouldn’t you be doing something to help???  She’s been sitting on those eggs for 12 days!”

This small mother robin has won my heart, taken a lot of my time and  has provided me with an interesting outlet for the maternal part of me that is in desperate need of resting my hands on the expanding belly of the last person I birthed but haven’t been able to because of the miles that separate us.

As a little girl who didn’t really like to be read to, there is only one book that I clearly remember enjoying sitting though and that was “Horton Hatches the Egg.”  Even as a little girl I knew that there was something very wrong with that Mazy the lazy bird’s need to be in Miami rather than in her nest, seated on her eggs.  Maybe it is my love for that story (seriously, that Horton…he still makes me sigh…) that has drawn me to similar scenarios, with the opportunities to watch the incredible process of birds hatching from carefully guarded eggs then beginning their slow process of taking flight and finding their independence.  I’ve watched while crouched under a kitchen window and now while standing on a stool and have always felt like there was some manipulation from the universe to give me such an “insider’s view” and with such impeccable timing.  My last egg hatch was enjoyed with my daughter during graduation week of high school.  It was so timely that the tiny cardinals took their first flights to the nearest tree on graduation day, under the close guidance of the father.  We felt sad to see them go that morning but happy to see their return, shortly after we returned home from the graduation.  Yep, the parents, mom especially, thought they were ready to fly the nest, but she was also ready to welcome them back.  I understood. As a mom I had also taught my children how to use their wings but hoped even more so that they wouldn’t forget their roots.  Nature, still, is my best teacher.

This robin, who sat over her eggs for 12 days became what I needed to see, to watch, to feel while my 37 weeks pregnant,  677 miles away, daughter is about to enter a time in her life and her heart that will change her forever.  It is a role in life that has me looking at that mother robin and sees the maternal instinct that ties us together. I’ve been overwhelmed by watching her dedication to those 5 blue eggs that have now become 5 tiny fuzzy headed birds, only leaving them for minutes at a time to find food. My view is pretty lousy but when she is away from the nest, I stand on the stool and can peer into the nest and see a few tiny beaks open and can hear their cries for food.  It feels primal and familiar at the same time as I remember those cries and my responsibility to feed my own babies, thankfully one at a time though and not a nest full.  The timing of all of this is so auspicious,  presenting itself to me at a time when I’m watching my own baby enter into the process of mothering.  I can’t help but think back to those early mothering roles with the deepest of love and also a bit of sadness that those days are over and so quickly it seems, especially now that I see my youngest on the same journey.  The maternal instinct to care for your young is so strong and watching the process of seeing this mother robin, so dedicated and fiercely protective of her nest of 5 eggs, now tiny birds, brought it all home to me, once again. Mothering is mothering, whether a bird or a human.

Newborn photos are never all that great…

All of this has put my maternal instincts into a tailspin, while giving way to some letting go at the same time.  I’ll always be my daughter’s mom, but she will soon become a mom herself,  and with that there will be a shifting in our roles.   That patient robin, dedicated to her eggs, has become a timely metaphor of my own daughter and the way she’s cared for herself and the baby she is carrying.  Thankfully, her baby’s father has not been off preening himself on a nearby rock, but rather has been with her every step of the journey. Thank you, Miles.  You make the letting go for me a little bit easier.  The best of everything is about to come for you both.

I could hear the squeeky cries from the tiny open beaks this morning while tiptoeing around in my laundry room.  The mama was out searching for food so I spent some time on the stool looking down into the nest.  The view is poor but I could see 3 beaks open and a pile of fuzzy little heads.  Their journey out of the nest, starting with short trips to the nearby dogwood tree will be next (dad may step in for that one… kind of like the dad who takes the kid out for his first time behind the wheel, I’m guessing) followed by short flights around the yard and then they will be gone and eventually the wreath, nest free, will be stacked among the other Christmas decorations and I will regain complete access to my laundry room.  I may miss their first flights as I’ll be with my own baby bird as she enters her journey into motherhood.

The circle of life.  The handing over of the roles.  The love.  It just keeps growing.

 

My daughter, the farmer.

She loved goats then…

 

and she still loves them now!

My daughter is learning how to be a farmer.  That’s the same daughter who showed terrible disdain for my choice in Mother’s Day gifts many years ago, when I asked for a roto tiller for my garden.  She asked me why I couldn’t want stuff like the “other” moms wanted for Mother’s Day, you know, like perfume and make up.  I’m not sure if I actually had girlfriends who asked for make up for Mother’s Day, but I understood where she was coming from.  Clad in overalls, work boots and likely a bit of a muddy mess, I gave my body a once over scan with the available arm that wasn’t holding a pot or a shovel or anything that related to my garden and said, “Do I look like the kind of person who would ask for make up for a gift?”  At the same time, I totally understood her.  It was the part about “be like the other moms” that she was trying emphasize, because that is what feels far more comfortable when you’re a child, or maybe even forever.  It wasn’t the first time I had heard that, or the 2nd, and most times it was warranted as it usually followed a less than flattering situation that I had put myself in.  Wearing slippers to the grocery store comes to mind.  I could always justify it with a, “but it was a very quick, run in and run out trip, and I didn’t anticipate seeing anyone I knew, but I guess I should have realized that Emery saw me and when your mom wears slippers instead of shoes, well, it’s kind of embarrassing.  And then there’s that whole situation of if she wears slippers when I’m with her, what does she wear when I’m not with her?  Valid point and I’ll let it go at that.

Out of all 3 of my kids, it was Emery who spent the most time in my gardens with me growing up,  simply because of the fact that she was home all day with me and there was always something that needed to be tended to in the garden. After working tirelessly either with laying flagstone pathways or planting or trimming or weeding, usually with a start at sunrise to avoid the summer heat, it was Emery who always acted interested when I’d ask who wanted to come see what I had been working on all day?  Maybe she just felt sorry for me, all that work and all, without fully understanding that it never felt like work to me, but rather was more like a physical meditation with incredible results after a long day.  I truly believe that if push came to shove and she had to state her truth on gardening, she’d admit that she kind of liked it or at least she had developed an appreciation for the outcome after much hard work.  Before she was even in kindergarten, she knew the Latin names of most of my shrubs and several of the perennials.  I was so used to it, that I forgot that it really wasn’t normal when talking about the spirea bushes to have your 4 year-old ask which ones you were talking about.  The Vanhouttes or the Little Princesses (or Japonicas, to be exact)?  I taught her gardening in the same manner that I taught her how to find her way to the baggage claim in pursuit of her knowledge of travel:  I talked out loud and she followed me and before I knew it, she was the leader in finding the baggage claim and was calling plants by their Latin names (a good habit I had to learn when working at a garden center that I’ve never given up).

When she was in kindergarten, my flower garden became far more important to her because unbeknownst to me, my clever little 5 year-old was hatching a plan.  Her teacher, who she loved dearly, tutored kids in the summer a couple of times a week in subjects that they were having problems with.  When I look back on that now and think of how absurd it sounds to hire a tutor for your just out of kindergarten child,  I have to remember that I was trying to do all I could to insure my kid’s success in school, so if post kindergarten tutoring over the summer was in order, then that is what we’d do.  Besides, Emery had convinced me that she desperately needed her teacher’s help over the summer as she was really having a hard time with her school work.  Was it reading?  Do kids learn to read in kindergarten?  Math?  How hard is math in Kindergarten?  How quickly I’ve forgotten something that seemed so dire at the time.  And so my little schemer got her way and her sweet teacher came to our house twice a week for tutoring.  Emery insisted that the lessons take place in the garden and on the swing,  because according to her, it was the nicest view the there was.  She was right.

Pathway into the “garden of love”

Front part of the “garden of love” and the porch swing.

By the end of the summer, Emery made her announcement.  My garden, now referred to as the “garden of love” would be the site of her teacher’s wedding, either in the fall or the spring, whichever time would be the prettiest.  Her teacher wasn’t dating anyone at the time, or at least that I was aware of, and when I mentioned that to Emery, she didn’t seem overly concerned, but rather, asked where the best spot would be for her to stand when the newspaper came to take pictures of the wedding.  Under the arch, definitely under the rose covered arch.  Or maybe one of those pensive walking away shots on the flagstone path.  Good grief, she had sucked me right into the planning of the nuptials of a wedding where there was not yet a groom!  She knew who was going to be in the wedding, what she would wear (I think that was first on her agenda), what music would be played and very important details on the cake, which would be the only food for the wedding.  Still, no talk about a groom.  The only single guy that Emery knew was her Uncle Bill, who lived in Seattle,  and at one point she casually mentioned that he could probably be the groom.  Minor details.

The wedding plans faded as she moved into first grade and she once again became obsessed with her teacher,  who looked like Snow White, but who’s prince had already come.  So there would be no wedding in the garden,  although calling it the “garden of love” stuck, and if I still lived there today, I’m sure I’d still be calling it that.  Her take on that beautiful corner of the yard had me seeing it differently every time I spent time in it.  It really was a garden of love,  whether there was a wedding taking place there or not, the love was always there.

Even though it happened by default, and with a bit of reluctance, those seeds for a love of working the earth had been planted and were germinating for Emery just as they had for me when I was about the same age.  I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in the summer and would marvel at the size of my Papa’s garden and the fact that the bounty that he’d bring in every day and set on the kitchen counter, was only there because he had planted the seeds with his own bare hands and tended to them until they became plants that eventually made their way onto our dinner plates.  That, to me, was nothing short of a miracle.  A few years later, while still in grade school, I planted my own garden – a small weedy patch in a back corner of the yard where I planted a handful of watermelon seeds.  And what do you know,  it worked!   Just as it had worked in my Papa’s garden. Those oval,  black,  shiny seeds grew into watermelons that looked just like the ones on the front of the seed packet.  I still remember the hot afternoon that I had gone out to “tend” to my little patch of a garden when hidden behind vines and weeds I saw a fully grown and ripe watermelon, ready for the picking.  I sat down, right then and there, and broke it open, enjoying the fruits of my labor.   It wasn’t cold or sliced, but it was the best watermelon I had ever eaten and because it was mine and I had grown it myself,  I ate the whole thing, its juice running down my chin to my chest while I buried my face in the warm pink fruit, pausing only long enough to spit the seeds out.  To this day, watermelon is still one of my favorite foods and always comes up when playing that game of what would your last meal consist of, which oddly comes up more than you’d think. So I get it.  I get the gardening, the manipulating the earth, the being outside and getting dirty thing.  I think it was in my genes and I’m proud to claim my role in it becoming a part of my daughters genetic make up.

Like mother…..(my look for much of the ’80’s)

Like daughter…

This past winter, Emery and her husband, Miles, purchased acreage outside of Ft. Collins, CO and are learning how to be farmers, which is entailing a lot more than just planting.  They will also soon be goat owners, chicken owners and started keeping bees a few months ago.  My daughter has a bee keeping suit for Pete’s sake!  I marvel at that one.  They are currently in Taos, NM getting their certification for permaculture farming,  as well as a bit of hands on training with raising goats, which doesn’t surprise me one bit, the goat part, that is.  When Emery was young, she absolutely adored the goats at the petting farm and would pass by all other animals without even slowing down, with a beeline to the goats.  Living just down the street from the petting farm made going to visit the goats a  regular pastime for us.  She was so sweet with them and would talk to them like she was their mother – scolding,  praising, and trying to teach the aggressive ones some manners.  Fast forward 20 plus years and she’s found her goats again.  The same little girl who was deathly afraid of silver fish, those tiny little fellas who squirm around your house in search of where your most beloved wool sweaters were kept,  had no problem taking on a pen full of rambunctious goats, while her mom tended to keep a safe distance on the other side of the gate.  It pleases me to no end to think that now she’s going to have her hand at them again.

A few nights ago Emery texted me from Taos and told me that she got her spirit from me.  I read those words, paused,  then I read them again.  I didn’t want to stop reading them.  It’s impossible to fully understand the impact of seeing yourself in your kids until you have that “oh, wow… that’s me..”  moment, especially when it is something in your life that you covet and are proud of.  I couldn’t help but think that now, finally, she might understand who that woman was who asked for a roto tiller for Mother’s Day.  That woman just may have been onto something that she would only begin to understand once she started digging around in the dirt herself.  At that time though, Emery simply wasn’t ready for that mom who showed up at the store in her slippers, or in overalls when I should have been wearing something “nicer” or with a face full of poison ivy on back to school night; that mom who didn’t look or necessarily act, like the other moms.  I’ve got to think that as she digs deeper into this endeavor of farming, much of that will not only make sense to her, but she just might do the exact same thing, overalls and all.

To that daughter who wished makeup, not roto tillers for me, along with twirly dresses,  and manicured hands, yet at the same time, insisted on spending time in my “garden of love,” because it was the BEST view and there was something very special about it, now it’s my turn.  Now I get to be the one following you as we walk your land and you point out all of the many things you and Miles have planted and the many more things that Mother Nature planted before you.  Keep digging in that ground my beautiful daughter, and you’ll find treasures that you never imagined…the biggest one being yourself.

They hold my heart…Mother’s Day, 2016

I’ve written a Mother’s Day blog post for the past two years and wondered if I would have enough in me to come up with a third post.  Who am I kidding?  Of COURSE I have more to say about the wonders of motherhood.  I’ve been a mom for almost half of my life.  I’ve got material.

This is my first Mother’s Day that has all three of my kids stretched across the country –  Portland, Ft. Collins and most recently, Chicago.   Honestly, this mom is feeling a bit lonely for her kids…so lonely that I bought a ticket to Portland for a few days so I can spend Mother’s Day with my oldest son and his wife.  With all three kids no longer living in the area, the day has changed quite a bit for me from when they were young.  There were many years that they would ask me what I wanted to do on my very special, all about me day and my usual response was “just be with you kids, that’s all.”  That wasn’t exactly true.  I wanted to go to the movies.  By myself.  I wanted to sit through two hours of ANYTHING without interruption and eat pop corn and Milk Duds.  OK, I said it.  But how does one tell three young children who have just delivered to my bedside a tray with a stack of Pop Tarts and half-filled glass of orange juice, that they have so carefully prepared in my honor,  that I was thinking about going to the movies.  Alone.   Well you don’t.  The post Pop Tart glow would be faded by lunch time when life would get back to normal with laundry to do, meals to sort out and and fights to break up, because it was Mother’s Day and everyone wanted to sit by mom.  Sweet, but they were still fights.  That’s when 2 hours in a movie theater sounded like the perfect celebration for mom.  I feel guilty even typing that but know there may be a reader or two out there nodding yes.  Honestly, days were challenging with 3 under the age of 4 and if it truly was a day to honor mom, than did spending an afternoon at the movies all alone sound like an over the top request?  I’ll cut to the chase right now and confess, it was only an idea.  I never went to the movies on Mother’s Day.

My thoughts have changed.  I long for just a little bit of the chaos of 3 young kids because I miss them.  I truly miss them and I miss that active role of mothering.   I’ve mentioned the philosophy of raising kids with both wings and roots in posts before because it is something that I truly believe in and tried my best to adhere to when raising my own kids.  The wings part seems to have taken very well with all 3 of them.  It’s bittersweet for me, but it’s ultimately what I wished for them – to not be afraid of moving out of their comfort zone and exploring life’s options, stumbles and all.  It was me who had Emery, at the tender age of barely knowing how to read, direct us to the baggage claim on every trip we took together, because I was trying to instill a sense of confidence in her regarding travel, something I didn’t get until much later in life. And Grant… when he wanted to apply to the Art Institute of Chicago, I wanted to suggest the KC Art Institute instead,  but I didn’t.  He needed to test out those anxious wings of his and I knew that.  And finally, when after a brief return to KC to live and feeling homesick for the city they had fallen in love with,  once again it was me who told Thomas and Brooke to return to Portland because I knew how happy living there had made them. Yes, I had a hand in this situation.

When Thomas was a baby, I went out and purchased every book I could find on how to be the best parent ever raising happy, healthy, confident, kind kids who loved their moms like crazy (I paraphrased that).  I pored through those books like I had just enrolled in Parenting 101, desperate to get an A.  There seemed to be too much at stake and I didn’t want to get anything wrong, if indeed I did have that kind of control as a parent.  It was as if I was sculpting a child and was so afraid my chisel would chip away something that would leave my sculpted kid lopsided and maybe missing a piece and there I’d be, chisel in hand, surveying the damage.  Fortunately, that phase was very short lived and thankfully, kids are far more resilient than stone. 18 months later and one baby went to two and then there were three and I hardly had time to read a recipe let alone a book.  I got real.  I listened to my intuition, flew by the seat of my pants, had on the job sink or swim training and parented from the soul.  My soul.  I can’t say that I’d recommend all of my methods, but at the time, they worked.  Case in point, when someone’s name showed up in permanent marker on the back seat of the almost new mini van.   No one would confess to the crime, including the child who was given the name that was carefully spelled out on the seat.  He (or she) was also the only child who knew how to write all of his (or her) letters right side up and facing the right direction, a strong piece of evidence that pointed me right to the culprit, but still, no confessions.

“OK, kids, since no one will admit to writing on the back seat, it looks like I’ll have to dust for prints to get my answer.”

Seriously, too many Perry Mason shows as a kid and that just rolled off my tongue like I actually knew what I was talking about.  But what do you know?  I had a confession before I could leave the room to go get my fingerprint kit (which of course did not exist).  I used that rather poorly construed method countless times until one day, one kid said…. “Hey… wait a minute….”  And I was busted.  That’s what’s called parenting from the seat of your soul-filled pants and it works until it doesn’t. You do what you do and make it up as you go along.  Some things stick and others fall away and the whole process, perfectly imperfect, is called parenting.

One of my more memorable Mother’s Days was spent shopping for a couch for our newly remodeled basement.  It was not how I wanted to spend my afternoon, nor was it my idea or anything that would have even come to mind, but I did write what turned out to be one of my favorite essays about the whole event.  My kids,  husband included, were enthralled with the huge couch “systems” that had trays that came out of seat cushions, remote holders, food holders and mechanisms to make the whole thing move for your bottom and back comfort.  You had to plug it in.  Your couch.  Plugged in.  My attempts at directing the wide-eyed crew to the normal furniture failed miserably and it was Emery who noticed my discontent in the mega furniture mart.

“This isn’t what you wanted to do for Mother’s Day, is it, Mom?”

Somehow, her little bit of understanding was all I needed.  She’s the girl.  She may be in a similar situation as a mother down the road some day.  I gave her a smile and a women to girl nod of camaraderie.

“No.  Not really.  But we’re all together and that’s all that matters.”

Not the exact truth, but close.

Later that night I’d be listening to Bonnie Rait’s latest CD (my Mother’s Day gift) mingling with the sound of rain hitting the roof while I cooked dinner because who knew you needed to make restaurant reservations so far in advance for Mother’s Day and well… I was the one who knew how to cook.  And it was glorious in a very homey, this is what it’s all about kind of way and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, including 2 hours alone in a movie theater eating Milk Duds and popcorn.  Not on your life.

Being a mom is a role that I covet more than anything else in my life.  It has opened a part of my heart to a love that I never could have imagined before and although my kids are all grown and living their lives away from me, the lessons of love continue.   Those 3 souls who have my heart, reminded me without knowing it of the beauty of simply stopping and seeing the wonder in things.  They woke up the little girl in me who colored outside of the lines, was messy, let her imagination guide her and broke a rule or two in the process (of course just the unimportant ones).  I did things as a parent that before kids would have had me shaking my head and mumbling under my breath,  “I’ll never do that when I have kids…”  Never, ever say never.

When Thomas was 2 1/2 and Grant was 1,  they ate an entire bottle of children’s Tylenol.  Obviously, this was certainly nothing I ever anticipated because I had every safety mechanism in place to prevent such a thing, but my never say never came when I left a partially packed suitcases out, while getting ready for a family trip.  The Tylenol, normally out of reach and site, was front and center for my little ones to discover.  I was on the phone with a friend when Thomas came up to me, handed me the empty bottle and asked if he and Grant could have more.  I immediately hung up and called Poison Control, whose number I had placed near the phone before I even crossed the threshold with my firstborn, never expecting that I’d actually have to call it some day.  To see my two young boys, one still a baby and the other not yet tall enough to reach my waist, throwing up because the syrup of ipecac was working, absolutely broke this mom’s heart. They were both crying and through the throwing up and tears,  Thomas, looked up at me and asked me why they both were so sick.  If I could have taken the ipecac for them to rid their bodies of the Tylenol, I would have done that in a heartbeat. A couple of hours later and they were good as new, as if nothing had happened.  Their blood tests showed that they were fine and the doctor made a special point to tell me that both boys had the exact same amounts of Tylenol in their systems.  Well what do you know?  Thomas had finally learned to share with his little brother.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything he should have been sharing in the first place, but that was another story.

Moms learn to multi task out of necessity, which unfortunately I’m learning is a difficult skill to “unlearn.”  I wasn’t any more skilled than any other mother when I say that it wasn’t the least bit unusual to be cooking dinner while calming a toddler in the midst of a tirade and hear the phone ring and a “Can you get that?” Of course I can.   Oh and did I mention that I was also nursing a baby?  Moms are jugglers and while we almost always get it right, every once and a while one of the balls drops (hopefully not the nursing baby) and we have to stop, reassess what is important and sometimes that most important thing is to simply sit on the floor of a messy house, with laundry piling up and dirty dishes in the sink and play… roll up those sleeves, put a magic cape on, don a fancy hat and play.  Mothering is messy.  Kids are messy, but they are also very good teachers and will help you prioritize without even knowing it.  They are also scam artists, but very cute ones.

So, to all the mother’s out there, whether your kids live across the country, down the street or down in your basement, we truly are all in this together.  The most flexible muscle in a mom’s body is her heart, and mine, having grown with the birth of each one of my children,  now stretches itself in three different directions across the country. Those three stretchers of my heart have made me who I am today and gave me the role in my life that I covet beyond all others.  Mom.

Happy Mother’s day to you all!

Thomas
Grant
Emery
When you ask your kids to text a photo of them together, but don’t specify which way you want them to face… Goofballs.
Right here.  My heart.

 

Two 30’s, two generations. This one is for you, Thomas.

 

 

Me,  recently 30….
Thomas,  almost 30…

My first born, Thomas, started giving me advice at the tender age of not even two.  His advice and my need for it hasn’t changed, although his delivery has become  more fine tuned over the years. When he was not yet two and after a difficult day with his baby brother of just a few months, I asked him,  rhetorically of course,  how in the world I was supposed to deal with a baby who cried all day.  (It’s possible that I was simply thinking out loud, but I got an answer anyway…)

“Just love him, Mama… just love him.”

Just love him.  And that’s how a Mom who was working so hard at attempting to do everything right   was brought to her core on getting things prioritized.  Just love him, Mama.  And of course I did, but  with two under age two, there were days that were challenging.  I’ll often hear that sweet nugget of advice when I’m going through a frustrating time with someone I care deeply about.  Just love him.  Just that.  As he matured, to the ripe ole age of 4 or 5, he began to answer questions with a much more methodical approach. With a tilt of his head, an uplifted chin and as much knitting as a four year-old brow can muster, he’d respond,

“Let’s think about that until Saturday night, Mom.”

This was his answer to not having an answer and by the way, that promised answer never arrived on Saturday night.  But he was right.  Sometimes with a problem or a question, rather than jumping on it it’s best to just wait and ruminate a bit… until Saturday night or so…

That kid, that never short on words kid, who had a huge imagination and an even bigger heart has grown up and is going to be 30 soon.  30 years old.  That same 30 years old that I was when I gave birth to him.  That’s the part that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around.  Age and the passage of time I’ve learned are concepts that only become more confusing as we age and thinking about it only seems to make it even more confusing.

I shared my son’s upcoming significant birthday with someone in my yoga class a few day ago while in a conversation about our kids and her comment was,

“Is he a lot different than you were at 30?”

“Oh yes.  Very.”

“Yeah, I get it.  My kids also were.  They were all very immature at 30.”

I paused.  I thought about what she said.  I paused again, not sure if I even wanted to be having this conversation that I initiated with someone I barely knew, but felt the need to clarify.   The truth of the matter was that my son at almost age 30 is FAR more mature than I was when I entered my 3rd decade.  My entrance to age 30 found me with an long list of jobs and states lived in to work those jobs,  along with a mismatched string of college credits from 4 schools,  all held together under a a belt of dreams.

While in my late 20’s, I thought 30 would signal the end of the wandering, the adventures, the flying by the seat of my pants and living out of suitcases because it seemed too old to me to be doing those sorts of things – old in a sense of the responsibilities of marriage and mortgages and kids on the horizon taking priority over all else, whether I was ready or not.  So I pushed that 20’s envelope and filled it up with a lot of sampling and experimenting and hopping around, while hoping I’d discover who I was and what I was supposed to be doing in the process.  As I started pushing 30, I found much of what I had been searching for and cliche as it may sound, it was with me all along.  Dorothy’s red shoes just needed to be clicked.  I returned to Kansas from Alaska, cobbled together and added to my collection of college credits to arrive at a BA in Anthropology, got married and gave birth to my first child.  It was a big year for me and one that felt like I had raced into head on, totally out of breath and slightly disheveled, as I crossed over the finish line to 30, right in step with the tick tock of my biological clock and ready for the responsibilities ahead. Had someone told me that I could slow down and take my time as 29 or 30 or 32 were all just numbers, I’m not sure I would have believed them because society seemed to be telling me otherwise, or at least that’s how I heard it.  Not only was I supposed to be somewhat settled by 30, but it was a good age to start minding the  biological clock and doing the math, that is if I hadn’t already started that process.   Ironically, I’ve handled sequential entrances into new decades in a similar manner with the pendulum of time swinging rather radically on birthdays that end in a “0” and settling down by the 1’s and 2’s.

No, my son is not like I was at almost 30.   His approach, while still enjoying the adventure of trying new things and the courage to leave his comfort zone to do that,  has been far more methodical and thoughtful than mine.  No doubt he’ll enter into his next decade with more maturity and calm than I  had and not the least bit disheveled or out of breath.  I’m not surprised, and could not be prouder of him.

So, my 60-year-old self, looking back on my 30-year-old self, giving birth to my first born on the 30th of this month (which also happens to be the day of my birth, just a different year and month) has me feeling very full-hearted, grateful and nostalgic to a point that I know if I stay too long in this place I’ll be a hunched over mess of a mom tearfully turning pages of a photo album and wishing I had toddlers again, because there will never be anything like that again for me and those really were the days.  But these are also the days!

When a mom looks at her baby, her toddler, her young school-aged child, she doesn’t really think about who they will be as an adult, or at least I didn’t.  I couldn’t get past college age in my imagination.  I can remember when my kids were very small, trying to scan crowds to find someone who I thought they’d look like given their characteristics that were already prominent.  Old habits die hard as this started for me as a child looking through the Sears catalog trying to decide what my kids would look like.  Of course I had no husband or even a boyfriend at that time to represent  the other genetic half, which meant I had to do some wandering through the men’s section to shop for features that would compliment my own and would be passed onto our incredibly perfect children.  Other attributes such as artistic ability, athleticism, intelligence,  a strong moral code and so on, were never considered, at least not then.  That would come later.

I guess it is later now and I’ve got an almost 3 decader who has surpassed any of the hopes I had for him and continues to do so.  When I look at that advice giving toddler who has become a man and think that I had a part in that,  I’m a without words kind of overwhelmed.  Seeing my own mannerisms in his or hearing him use and pass on my made up words and phrases in conversation with his peers paired up with a sense of humor that feels very familiar to me, melts my heart.

The one thing a new mom and even a not so new mom is guaranteed to hear over and over again to the point of annoyance, especially with its sad-eyed delivery, is how fast time goes by and how quickly your children will grow up.  I understand that now, simply because I’ve lived it, but hearing it when your toddler is pitching a fit on the grocery store floor because you won’t buy him (or her…) candy at the check out counter more than once had me wanting to respond….”And that would be a BAD thing???”

Yes, those years flew by and although I love to go back and remember,  I can’t immerse myself for too long into the old photo albums because I know myself too well, and it’s a slippery slope of a place for me.  Old photos aside, what I can do now is cherish who all 3 of my once toddler,  now adult children, have become and the strength of the relationships I have with them.  I can go on vacation with them and not have to pack for them, schlep car seats and strollers and counteless bags of Cheerios because heaven help me if I run out of food,  and cross my fingers that no toy guns were inserted into backpacks when my back was turned, which I know from experience can slow down a security line to a halt and rev up a lot of passenger’s tempers.  Instead, the travel has shifted to equally shared experiences with no one doing the heavy lifting and everyone enjoying a beer at night upon arrival.  Adult children are fun and so worth the wait. Sure, time flies, even faster if you’re not paying attention,  but isn’t the whole point that you still have that time in your in your clutches?  Another person in yoga a few days back told me she wished she could freeze her kids at the ages they are now, 7 and 9.  My response  to her was just to wait as every year gets better, except for a few of those middle school years, but I kept that to myself.  One day they will be men who you will adore  spending time with.  I think she was a bit put off by thinking of her not yet teen boys as men, and I understand that, but still, I couldn’t let her comment go by without my seasoned and experienced response.

Time flies and its passage is much easier when you can make peace with that and embrace the changes that go hand in hand.  My firstborn will always be my firstborn whether he’s almost two or almost 30.  He’s just a more developed version now of that curly headed tot who was never without words and was more than happy to dispense advice, whether solicited or not.  I loved him far more than I ever thought I could love anyone, but not near as much as I love him today.  And that, on the heels of his 30th birthday, I’m going to think about until Saturday night.

 

Getting the “ready” part of leaving the nest right… for everyone.

Yesterday,  on the heels of Mother’s Day,  a young bird in my garden gave me the gentle reminder that we all need our mother and as mothers, we all need to be needed.  It’s that simple.

I was in my garden when I noticed a small bird perched on a rock, looking up at me without the least bit of fear or trepidation.   Even when I moved in closer, he still didn’t flinch.  I stood there for several minutes, speaking softly to him and then it happened.  He got tall, or as tall as a bird only a few inches tall can be, ruffled his feathers and hovered for a few seconds before landing right back down on the rock where he started.  At a time of in life when so many of my friends, as well as myself, are faced with an emptying nest,  or getting used to the already empty nest, my only thought while watching this struggling bird was that it’s not only the mom that the exit is hard on.    It appeared that this little fella’s independent streak got the best of him before he was ready and off he went without all of the proper tools he needed to fly.  I followed him around my garden for a bit, as he hovered and landed from plant to plant.  There was a lot of bird chatter going on in my yard and I was hoping that some of it was from the frantic mother,  calling him back with a little bit of that scared, wait till you get home, in her call.  I lost him in the bushes so don’t know what happened to him, but have come up with my own version of the story where the mama bird rescues the baby and he returns home for a few more flying lessons before exiting again.  And everyone is happy.

I was reminded of a Mother’s Day several years ago when I was newly divorced and still in the process of finding my footing, while trying to get used to a new house and a new neighborhood.  I had a tree right outside the kitchen window and my first spring there I realized that I was sharing my piece of real estate with a lovely family of cardinals.  I have since learned that cardinals mate for life and once they find the right spot, aren’t inclined to fly off in search of a bigger or better tree, so I always feel lucky when they decide to nest in my yard.

Emery and I and anyone who happened to be at our house at that time of the year, spent a lot of time crouched below the kitchen window, quietly watching the soon to be growing family in our backyard tree.  We watched patiently, and ever so quietly, as the mama bird sat in her nest.  As one who adored Horton Hatches the Egg as a child, this was very cool for me to watch and thank goodness it didn’t end with an elephant having to come in and take over while said bird jetted off to Miami.

The day eventually came and the eggs were hatched and Emery and I both got to watch the dad leave the nest, bring back the worms, give them to the mother who then, and just like the pictures, would feed the babies.  It became our pastime, our television our daily wonder.

We watched as both the mom and dad would teach the baby birds to fly, starting by moving from one branch to another close branch in the tree then eventually, as their skills and courage were honed, making their flights to the neighboring tree, always with quick returns.   This went on for several days, while the parents seemed to be calling out directions to their newly aloft babies. Ironically, on the graduation day of one of Emery’s friends who was a year older than her, the 3 baby birds flew the nest, and this time left for other trees not so close to home base. The timing was impeccable.  As I was thinking about my own soon to be emptied out nest and on the heels of Mother’s Day, we both watched from crouched positions at the kitchen window,  with a real life, front row view of the “leaving the nest” cliche that is spoke of so often.  After becoming so involved with watching this small family grow, I think we were both surprised at how emotional it was to finally see the little birds go.  Still riding on the warmth of what we had witnessed, we returned home after the graduation to see that all of the birds had returned to the nest.  Maybe they weren’t quite ready after all.  If you believe it’s possible to see a bird smile, I think we both saw a slight grin on that mama bird’s face that night (is it called a face?) when her babies returned to the nest.  Maybe she wasn’t ready either.

I swear, there’s a coalition of birds out there who are trying to tell me something.  The birds, the nest, the leaving and the returning seems to be something that comes into view for me on a regular basis and for sure at this time of year when so many of us are thinking about mothering and mothers and the feel of our grip on our little ones as they begin to fly.  The book I made for my friend, Marta, reminded me of this, yet again, with one of her paintings of a bird (representing her youngest child) returning to the nest after his initial “exit.”  Next to the painting is the quote, “otra vez,”  which means “again”  in Spanish.  Simple, yet understood.  One of the edits Marta made during our book-making process was to have me put that word in all capital letters.  I understood.

There are the birds that leave when they’re not quite ready and will flutter and hover and fall until they decide to return to their opened-winged mothers,  then there are the birds that simply don’t want to leave, just yet, and need a bit of maternal nudging.

In raising our children, we give them roots and we give them wings and it’s the wings part that most of us who are mothers struggle with.  It is also the part that connects us all,  whether we have feathers or not.

Perfect imperfection and other maternal goals…. Happy Mother’s Day, 2015.

My everything.  And then some…
Mother’s Day, 1992

 

 

I was asked the other day by my cousin’s daughter, who is in her 3rd trimester of pregnancy, if I knew how long the umbilical cord was.  I didn’t know. But really, I did, but didn’t want to tell her.  The umbilical cord is as long as it needs to be, and although the physical cord is birthed with the baby, the emotional cord connects you and your child forever and ever.  Mine once stretched all the way to the highlands of Peru, when I learned that my non-Spanish speaking, traveling alone daughter, had found herself on a bus in the middle of nowhere, with a flat tire, a steep drop off and more than one person asking if she was alone.  Alone as in, can I help you???  Or alone as in, I can take advantage of you.  And of course night was approaching. Thankfully,  I got word of this AFTER the fact and not during and although she ended up being safe, I felt the ache from the stretched umbilical cord for a long time afterwards. That same invisible cord has found its way to Chicago multiple times when my son Grant lived there and has great muscle memory for Portland, where my oldest son Thomas and my daughter-in-law Brooke live.

There were a whole lot of other things that I could have shared with this soon to be mom, but she will learn these things on her own, and with her child as her teacher.  She’ll learn that all those things she vowed she’d never do as a mom,  she will do.  Multiple times.  I was determined to give my kids the healthiest food I could and convinced my oldest for quite some time that rice cakes were cookies and green beans were snacks – the good kind of snacks that you asked for before they were even offered.  But the day came when I strayed and popcorn became a vegetable, ice cream covered us in the dairy requirements and more than once I tried to make a meal out of condiments.  Some days simply didn’t have the hours I needed to get out the serving dishes and have something to put in them.  Or maybe I was just tired.  Yeah.  I think that was the reason.

With hands on hips, I told my kids I would not be the mom who ran stuff up to the school that they had forgotten.  Period.  End of story.  Don’t even ask.  The first time my oldest  called me during his freshman year of high school to tell me he had forgotten his soccer uniform and it was game day, I couldn’t get in my car fast enough to bail him out.  He had, after all, given me almost 9 years of no asking so just this once, right?  On about the 4th trip to the school office, with my usual accessory of a soccer uniform under my arm, the attendance clerk told me that as long as I continued to bring his forgotten items to him, he would never learn.  I responded with a “Oh I know… I’m not a mom that does that…normally…. but these are emergency exceptions.”  I’m totally that Mom and it would appear I’m a lying mom as well.  If said son had forgotten something he needed in his class in law school IN PORTLAND, OREGON, I would have had the car headed west before he had finished with his plea, but he never asked.

Preconceived notions of perfection in child rearing take a back seat to reality and as a mom with experience, I can say that the crucial decision of whether to go by the books or by the seat of the pants is usually made on the fly when there is no other option but by the seat of the pants.  Tired also plays into the decision making process and with 3 under age 4, that’s my defense, and I’m sticking to it.

I had to remind at least one of my kids to stop telling me that such and suches mom makes a fresh from the oven home made treat for after school snacks each and every day and lays it out buffet style for the kids to enjoy after school.  Seriously?  Well I’m never going to do that.  The next week, I stocked up on muffin mixes and tried my damnedest to be that mom.  I failed.  My straight from the box and into the oven muffins were not what I was about and my kids saw right through my poorly pieced together mom of the year facade.  What was my normal was putting my school-aged kids in the car at eleven o’clock at night and heading to the store for licorice or skittles or day old donuts because we were watching a movie and the popcorn wasn’t cutting it.  Oh yes, and I was usually in my slippers because when you make a fast get away, shoes are the last thing you think of.  THAT is who I am.   The same mom,  who showed up in her slippers at the grocery store used to fold herself into a small closet with her then preschool-aged sons and have sleepovers because it was an adventure.  She was also the mom that asked for a roto tiller for Mother’s Day one year, much to the dismay and disappointment of her 5 year-old daughter, who desperately wanted her to want make up for Mother’s Day.

I thought that gathered around the hearth, all squishy and smiley and in coordinating colors while we created the memories of a lifetime, was what it was all about, in part because the articles in the magazines said so.  More than once, post holiday, I would silently scold myself, insisting that I’d get it right the next time, when in reality, I couldn’t have been more right and the memories and traditions were made whether I was armed with a cookie cutter and a glue stick or not.  Who gathers around a hearth anyway?  In keeping with the importance of tradition, whether mine or the magazine’s, I decided when the kids were little to let them choose what their birthday celebration would look like, including the restaurant choice.  My middle child, Grant, at age 3, decided that eating at home was better than any restaurant, and chose his favorite foods for his birthday celebration menu…cantaloupe and hot dogs.   He also insisted on all of us “dressing for dinner, ” which for the all the boys meant blazers (no ties required) and for Emery and I, dresses.  He wore a pair of too short, too tight, red plaid pants, water shoes, a green muscle shirt and of course the required navy blue blazer.  It was perfectly imperfect, right down to the mismatched paper plates.  Of course at the time, I wondered if I should have over-ridden the menu choice, but now I realize that giving the one celebrating the birthday total control, was and still is, the right thing to do.  We did stay with the traditional over-iced, white sheet cake from the grocery store though.

That seat of the pants mothering that sometimes comes out of a box and sometimes doesn’t wear shoes or adhere to a schedule, is something I see very clearly today in each one of my children even though none are mothers, or fathers for that matter.   I could not be prouder as a mom for that.  When you can look at your kids and say to yourself, ‘hey, I recognize that person because it’s me!’… well, it doesn’t get any better than that, unless of course it’s the negative stuff and in that case, look away. They may have a leg up on me when it comes to food preparation (no boxed muffins in their cupboards), but the thread of salt of the earth with a little bit of crazy and a whole lot of love has connected us all.

Emery wrote a Mother’s Day essay for me when she was in middle school and it has hung on my closet wall ever since.  I can’t step foot into my closet without re-reading at least one line of it and the line that keeps coming into my field of vision is this:

“My mom is kind of like an old pair of socks, warm and cozy yet worn and tough.”

Well there you go.  To all the seasoned moms, the new moms and the moms to be, cozy, worn and tough beats homemade muffins spread out buffet style any day, or at least it does for me.  Happy, happy day of YOU!  We’re all mothers to someone, whether we know it or not, and that someone is very grateful, and not just on Mother’s Day.

 

Then…

And now…

 

 

Give it to Mom… she’ll carry it.

Moms are carriers.  Plain and simple.  I suppose it was my restricted carrying the past month due to a shoulder injury that has me thinking along these lines.  For nine months, we carry in our expanding belly an expectation of something we can’t possible begin to understand until we’re able to hold it in our arms for the first time and then we don’t want to let go.  We carry babies until they’re toddlers and when they discover their independence and no longer want to be carried, we carry their things.  We carry toys that should have been left at home in the first place and mutter  “I told you sos” under our breath, while more unwanted “had to bring it” things are piled onto our already full arms.  When my middle child, Grant, was born, he spent the first 4 months of his life unhappy unless he was being carried.  The words, “Can you carry Grant?” were heard so often during those first 4 months that Grant’s other name became “Cary” Grant, quite by default.  Anyone slightly younger than me had no idea why we  found his name to be so clever.  And carry him, I/we did…. in a front pack, on a hip, over a shoulder or in the crook of an arm.  That same baby, many years later, while playing competitive baseball in middle school, had a coach who would tell the team as they were gathering up the equipment post game,

“Catchers don’t carry.”

I loved that sliver of recognition that the catcher would get for having spent the past few hours in a squatted position looking through a hot mask.  He should get a pass.  In fact, more than once I felt like the team should not only carry the equipment, but the catcher as well.  A few times, when I’ve been in a situation with Grant when I didn’t feel like I should have to carry something,  we’ve locked glances and he’ll take the words right out of my mouth before I even have a chance to utter them.

“Catchers don’t carry.”

He gets it.  My child who wanted to be carried for a solid 4 months can appreciate that sometimes the person who’s expected to shoulder the heavy load, simply needs a break.

I’ve often wondered what would happen if just once a rule of “Moms don’t carry” would be thrown out there?  (and not just on Mother’s Day…)  Would there be piles of half eaten bags of popcorn, still sealed water bottles, souvenir caps and worthless trinkets piled up at the exit of every amusement park because there wouldn’t be a mom to schlep them to the car?  Would stuffed animals, shoes that fell off of tiny feet and were easier to carry rather than put back on again, and the stray jacket be left behind on empty chairs in restaurants?   Or more likely, would the moms swoop in in exasperation and like any good pack animal,  load up the gear with a sigh and a “never mind” and continue on?  Maybe we do it because it’s important to us.  Maybe we know that a handful of stale popcorn will save the day 20 minutes into a ride home with grumpy and tired kids.  Maybe we know that we’ll be the ones that will suffer the consequences if all of our options are left behind in piles when exiting.

When my 3rd child, Emery, was born, the kids outnumbered  the arms, which I hadn’t really considered until my maiden voyage outside of the house with all three in tow.  My sister, Robin, said it reminded her of the guy that was on the Ed Sullivan show who would balance 3 plates in the air with two long sticks.  With the plates outnumbering the sticks holding them up, there was always a vulnerable one that had you holding your breath.  I think that same guy showed up every week on the show, and still, we watched with bated breath (entertainment was simple, times were different…).  I would think about that man on the Ed Sullivan stage a lot while I juggled 3 kids and their stuff – maintaining the balance of keeping all 3 “plates” in the air at once, always with an eye out for the vulnerable one.   I know I speak for other moms when I say that there was a little bit of “bring it on… I’ve got this” going on, maybe because there was an odd desire to see how much I actually could do or carry or manage before the delicately stacked tower would tumble.  It was always far more than I had predicted, by the way…

When kids had big enough arms to hold their own stuff, the rule was always “If you want to bring it, you carry it.”  The unwritten rule that seemed to go along with that, or at least as far as the kids were concerned, was, “Bring it.  Mom will end up carrying it.”  And sadly, she did.  Rules regarding carrying seemed to be regarded as mere suggestions, and I take total blame for that one.

All of the carrying becomes normal and any mother of young children will tell you that when their arms aren’t overflowing with babies, car seats, strollers or stuffed lovies, something feels wrong… almost like you have forgotten to put your second shoe on.  I marvel now at the strength and balance I had when I was able to remove and open a heavy double stroller from the back of the car with one hand,  while holding a crying baby and trying to keep a physical touch on his rambunctious older brother with any part of my body that was available.  Never again will I have the strong, chiseled arms I had then that sadly went unnoticed, simply because they were a side effect, not a goal, and something that I had no time to give importance to.  Even lifting weights 3 times a week with a personal trainer not that long ago couldn’t bring them back to their glory days. Funny how things work.

As much as I juggled, schlepped and complained, the day came when I realized that my arms were swinging back and forth as I walked…back and forth and strangely empty.  It felt surprisingly freeing, yet not quite normal and with that lingering sense of having forgotten something. Holding my kids and their belongings gave me a sense of control and security and comfort as all I had to do was look down and it would all be right there – right there in my tired, but contently filled arms.  When the babies, the toddlers, the crying children and the armloads of stuff no longer needed to be carried was when the real heavy lifting began.  This was the part that no one told me about.  This was the part that even the well-toned and strong arms wouldn’t be able to help me with.  This was the part when my arms set down the physical loads and my heart stepped in to carry the load.

In our ever-expanding hearts, we hold the hopes, the tears, the joys, the fears, the desires and every memory, both the good ones and the not so good ones.  Unlike our limited arms, our hearts are limitless and seem to expand with ease in order to make room for more memories, more touching moments, more feelings that you want to hold close.  I’ve come to realize, after so many times of saying goodbye to my children, to honor, respect and hold tight to what I no longer can carry in my  arms, but now hold in my heart and although it’s not a load that can be felt physically, its presence is as present as my breath, my pulse, my being.

I’ve been reminded twice in the past month, while carrying the boxed belongings of 2 of my kids and their spouses, that the carrying doesn’t ever truly end, it just changes.   Although most of the load carried since my children reached adulthood, has not been carried in cardboard boxes, but rather,  in my heart, there are still times that I get to re-flex my carrying muscles and honestly, it feels nostalgically wonderful.  But kids,  6 times in 3 years is enough!  Any more than that, and I’ll have to enforce my “catchers don’t carry” rule (which you’ll wisely read as “don’t worry, she’ll still help us move our stuff”…).  You know me well.  Of course I will.

Carrying all of them… in my heart…

 

 

 

Road blocks, rerouting and discovering the silver lining…

As much as I love a spontaneous change of plans, a slip in the mud and a bum shoulder to follow felt too much like a road trip getting canceled while literally sitting in your packed car, backed into the driveway and ready to go.  My first thought while trying to maneuver my way out of the mud, and the thought that seemed to predispose all others for the next several days, was what was my summer was NOW going to look like now that I had injured myself; an injury that would likely result in handing over some of my independence in the months ahead. THIS was certainly not what I had planned.  This was my first summer of owning a mountain place and I had visions of staying there most of the summer, with a few trips back to Kansas for some scheduled commitments and a whole lot of garden watering. What I didn’t count on was a few helpless weeks of mainlining “Breaking Bad,” (which by they way I finished and am still having dreams about drug lords and blue ice…), wearing the same shirt day after day after day and asking anyone close by to please put my hair up in a pony tail.  Life happens and plans change and it’s not all bad…. it can even be a good thing.

One of my friends and blog follower, LaMont Eanes,  commented on one of my original “Oh poor me, I fell in the mud and broke my shoulder” posts and said,

“All experiences are good, although they may not feel like it at the time.”

Thank you for that, LaMont.  With those words in mind, I suppose you could say I’ve been searching high and low for the silver lining that I was just sure was hiding somewhere under my now fading bruises.  I’ve discovered, yet again,  if I just let go, of both the search and the expectation, that the little gem of a silver lining will somehow find you but it helps if you’re keeping an eye out for it.  Watchful eye or not, I’m simply not a very patient patient.

Yesterday, while on an urban walk with Thomas and Brooke, that silver lining was so big that I had to exercise caution not trip over it (I’m much more thoughtful with my gait these days…).  I was spending the day with Thomas and Brooke,  which was a gift in itself and something I’ve only enjoyed on my visits to Portland the past 3 years or for the brief and scheduled moments over Christmas.  A few months ago, they made the decision to move back to Kansas after Thomas’ law school graduation in Portland.  A little over a week ago, the two weary travelers and their travel tired kitties landed on my door step in the middle of the night after 37 hours of traveling.  They are staying with me until they find their own space in the city, which sadly and selfishly for me has already happened and moving day is right around the corner.  Emery and Miles had made their move out of Kansas a short 2 weeks ago and still feeling their absence, I was thrilled with the idea of refilling of my now conspicuously large nest.

I knew of these relocation plans before I took my shoulder dip into the mud and had made my own plans around them.  I’d return from CO after getting Emery and Miles settled in, get Thomas and Brooke settled into my house, and would high tail it back to CO as soon as it felt right, where I’d await their visit to see me in the mountains.  That was the plan and from where I was sitting at the time, it sounded pretty good.  But life happens and plans change and I’m learning, albeit slowly, that it’s a whole lot easier to roll with it and see what it has to offer rather than wasting time bemoaning the fact that the plans got changed in the first place.  One would think I would have mastered this lesson by now given my many aborted plans that have magically given way to decisions that have given me some of my greatest joys in life  Case in point, my purchasing a mountain home when last summer’s mountain plans fell apart.

For the past week or so, I’ve gotten to simply hang with my son and his wife, without the rush that holiday visits always bring.  I’ve been able to sit on my porch every morning in my jammies and drink coffee with Brooke and talk or not talk, but always appreciative of the company.   I’m blessed.  I’ve also been able to, by necessity, let Brooke cook for me, clean for me and remind me to take it easy, go lay down and can I get you anything?  If that isn’t a little piece of heaven, I’m not sure what is.  Again, I’m blessed beyond words at the nurturing she’s given me… an ongoing hug with a spoonful of love. What an unplanned joy having them both in my house has brought me and with a duration that’s long enough that we’ve got the time to do all sorts of things or do nothing at all… both good choices.

My broken shoulder has kept me in Kansas as I’m not able to grip a steering wheel with two hands yet, and those I-70 winds around Russell, KS are near impossible to maneuver one-handed.  I’m beginning to see the terrible timing of all of this as the universe’s impeccable and perfect timing  and a gift to me that presented itself in the nontraditional wrappings of a navy blue cloth sling that currently supports my arm.  You are so right, Lamont, it is all good, although it didn’t necessarily feel like it at the time.  I’m also convinced that good cooking, a lot of nurturing and a very full heart are integral to the healing of a broken shoulder, or a broken anything for that matter.

Screened in porch time…

 

Kansas City urban walk about with these two…

 

These two in my kitchen… it just feels right.

 

Homemade tortilla soup… good for the soul… and the shoulder…

Emery doesn’t live here anymore…

The one thing I haven’t done since my return to Kansas a week ago, is to go see my daughter, Emery, and simply hang with her and catch up, face to face.  I know.  She doesn’t live here anymore.  I should know that.  I helped box up belongings and distributed them to Good Will, my basement, and a moving truck parked in their driveway on I swear the hottest, most humid day that Kansas has ever seen in May.  The remaining items were then stuffed into my car and driven to Ft. Collins, CO, where I then helped unload, unpack and empty the contents into cupboards, shelves and closets.  I know which drawer her orange-handled carrot peeler is in, but keep forgetting that she and her husband, Miles have moved.

On the Colorado side of the 657 mile journey…

In order to understand where I am now, I feel like I have to back up several years to when I first was divorced.  My son, Grant, was a senior year in high school and my daughter, Emery, a freshman. My oldest son, Thomas, was already in college.  Although Grant was a part of my transition,  it was after that first year when I was no longer coasting on the affects of adrenalin and making up my life a day at a time, when the real work began.  It was with Emery that I truly cut my teeth of independence and began to figure out exactly who I was and what I was supposed to be doing.  I had already done what I thought was the hardest part, but would later learn that it wasn’t the jumping off the proverbial cliff that was the hardest part, but rather, my anticipation of growing the wings I would need for a safe landing. That’s what kept me up at night.  Selfishly, I was grateful to not have to be alone when I had to go through the crises that seemed to come with regularity, including an exploding water pump in the basement and the bird’s nest in the porch light that caught fire from the heat of the bulb on a windy night, ending in a 911 call.  Although we were both treading in new waters and had no idea what we were doing, we had each other and not knowing feels a whole lot better when you have someone sitting next to you. Emery showed me what grace under fire looked like and unbeknownst to her, I’m sure, became my teacher….she and Lorelei Gilmore, that is, the leading role from the TV show “The Gilmore Girls”.

Emery and I loved the Gilmore Girls and would tune in whenever it was on.  It was entertainment for Emery, but far more for me.  I tuned in to learn how to be a divorced Mom to a teen-aged girl.  Lorelei Gilmore helped me find the confidence I needed to maneuver my way in this new role and as odd as it may sound to put such stock in a TV character, also made me feel not so alone in this new place. We (my television mom friend, Lorelei, and I) were on the same time schedule, with daughters who would be flying the nest at the same time.  I watched with anticipation, excitement and a deep seated sadness as we both seemed to be marking days at the same time and with the same speed.  I’ve got to think that Emery knew this as we sat next to each other on the couch every Sunday night and tuned in.  Even now, several years later, I am often touched to tears when I hear Carol King’s song, “Where You Lead” (the show’s lead in song) because of the many memories it conjures up.  I knew what was going to happen in the show because it was inevitable.  The daughter goes to college.  She leaves.

In the spring of Emery’s junior year, we got to enjoy several weeks of actually watching the process of  “flying the nest,” when a pair of cardinals nested in a tree right outside our kitchen window. Not even the Gilmore girls witnessed the incredible course of events that unfolded in the weeks to come (that we knew of…), although we both agreed it would have been a great story line for the show.  We went from watching mom sitting on the eggs, to seeing the babies peck their way out of the tiny shells then watched as dad would forage for food and bring it back to the mom, who would then feed her babies.  We were both awed by the beauty of watching the two birds turn into a family and the roles that all seemed so familiar to us. We watched from our own perch on the kitchen floor, all hunched down below the window sill and barely breathing, so as not to frighten them.  It became our TV and for me,  another role model to learn from.

We followed them, felt connected to them and I learned from them.  It wasn’t long before we watched the papa bird begin to teach the babies how to fly by flying to a nearby branch then would look back to the nest of baby birds and whistle.  We translated the whistle to,  “watch me and then do what I do.”  And eventually, they did.  Emery and I both beamed with maternal joy as we watched what were only eggs in a nest a few weeks ago, grow up, find their independence and make their maiden flight over to a nearby branch.  We witnessed as they practiced the short flight over and over again, always with a safe return to the comforts of the nest and mom.  A few days later, the babies had all flown the nest and we assumed were filled with the excitement of having their own places.  Emery and I had a high school graduation to attend and made one last look at the nest before leaving the house, now empty of its babies. Something seemed very poignant about the sequence of events given the timing of our leaving for a high school graduation.  I had been witnessing my own reality of a soon to be empty nest in the truest sense of the word.  Could a metaphor ever again be this spot on? If she hadn’t been a bird, I would have enjoyed a coffee and a chat with her, about that empty nest and all.  Did it feel too big now?  Is it lonely?  When we got home a few hours later, we were surprised by our discovery.  Lo and behold, all the babies had returned home from their various homes on branches in nearby trees.  I couldn’t help but smile, and felt a huge sense of relief for their mama.

It’s not a very clear photo, but we were being very thoughtful with our presence while watching from the kitchen window as we didn’t want to scare the protective mother.

I couldn’t help but think about that series of events with the family of cardinals while on the road to Ft. Collins in my overly loaded car.  Whether it was 657 miles down I-70 or from one tree to the next in my back yard, it was all the very same thing from the viewpoint of a mom….leaving the nest, the town, the state.  While I followed Emery’s car for every one of those 657 miles, I thought about the last time I had followed her on the highway, both of us with overloaded cars, when I moved her into her dorm at the University of Kansas.  I worried about her and how she’d do with this next big transition.  Or so I told myself… I was really worried about me and how I would handle this next big transition.  There was comfort, both times, in being able to take refuge in the comfort of being alone in my car.  I could cry.

Again, I followed my daughter down the highway as she tested her wings – this time with Miles

I’m certainly not expecting Emery to land back in my nest, but I know I’ve given her an internal compass that will always point her home.  Actually, I gave all 3 of my kids a small box for their graduation from high school that contained among other symbolic items, a compass that would always point them home.  When I was typing the letter that went into the box for Emery, just as I had done for her brothers, I envisioned her home as always being where I was and where she had come from, as that was the only reference I knew at the time.  Now I realize that the compass, although orientated to “home,” was now pointing her to the mountains of Colorado, where she has found her next home with her husband, Miles.  Still, she will always carry with her the internal compass that will always point her home – whether that’s to an actual physical location or to a feeling she carries in her heart.

My heart has stretched, yet again, across the 657 mile stretch of I-70 from Leawood, Kansas to Ft. Collins, Colorado, and although I can’t say I don’t feel sad at times, I’m with a very full heart that knows that although as parents we strive to give our children both wings and roots, it is in their flying that they will truly learn about life. As you fly, Emery, I learn, and in the process, we both grow.

Wings that took us to Perú…wings that would later take you there again…without me.

 

No matter where you are physically, you’re sitting right here next to me in my heart, Emery…

And to you,  Emery, you will not have an easier house guest.  I know where everything in your kitchen is as I put it there.  Second drawer to the right of the stove for the orange-handled carrot peeler…