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.



And now…



Trees and birds with a healthy side of patience and understanding…

I finished the making the book for my friend from Ecuador yesterday.  Well almost and not quite.  Upon what I thought was the  completion, I ordered just one copy to check for mistakes then took it over for Marta to check it as well before ordering the 12 books that she wanted.  I was very pleased with the end result but given the history thus far on the project, knew not to relax just yet, a hunch that was totally correct.

Marta was standing at her front window waiting for me when I arrived, a gesture that I’ve become quite fond of, and has me on my punctual toes each time I visit.  Her living room looked like she was expecting company as she had moved all of her kitchen chairs into the room, and each chair held one of her original paintings as well as stacked, and paper clipped papers of text.  There was a system here and I knew not to question although I was somewhat  surprised as I had already reassured her multiple times that I had the paintings and the text pages in the proper order.  I thought we had already jumped that hurdle.

Inhale.  Exhale.  Patience.  Or paciencia, in Español.

She loved my “sample” hard copy book, much to my delight, yet still walked around the living room checking my page order with the stacks of paper on each chair.   She did find a couple of small mistakes, errors in her spelling on some of the Spanish text and I agreed that I would keep the book with the mistakes as my own, would make the necessary corrections then would order the 12 books she wanted.  She wanted to pay me right then and there,  but I insisted we wait until she had all 12 books in her hands and was pleased with them. We agreed to meet for lunch once she received the books and she could pay me then.  So last week, as agreed, we met at a neighborhood restaurant that she liked that ironically happened to be French and enjoyed  the lovely French cuisine while conversing in Spanish the entire time.   The language section of my brain, opened up then got confused, as I was “merci-ing”  in the middle of a totally Spanish conversation.  I felt very European.

That was last week.  Since then, my friend has found things in the book she wants to change, which means another order and unfortunately, a big expense for her.  I tried to talk her out of it as the books are not cheap, but she insists that they be perfect and said she will only publish one book in her lifetime and this was it so it just had to be perfect.  She apologized for having pushed me to get them done so quickly but said she was nervous she wouldn’t make it to her 80th birthday, a comment that I have argued more than once with her.  When the book was finished she told me she was relieved and will not worry about dying before December.  I don’t know how to say “stop over thinking the dying stuff” in Spanish but gave her a smile that communicated my thoughts and she smiled back.  I’m starting to understand her humor and she mine.

That was a few weeks ago and the same process of ordering, proofreading, correcting and re-ordering has now happened, twice.  Last week, I think we finally reached a point where we’re both satisfied, but my fingers remain crossed and my breath held.

This has been far more of an ordeal than I ever thought it would be when I signed on, but it has been about so much more than a book of paintings and text.  Last week I spent 2 hours conversing in Spanish with my new friend and felt so comfortable with it that at one point I actually forgot that I was slogging through a language that wasn’t my mother tongue.  

As I was driving home from that last visit,  I realized that the many trips to her house to do and re-do were far less about the book that we were jointly creating and far more about the friendship that was developing.  I think about Marta and I smile.  It’s been a synchronistic connection that I think we both needed and the timing was impeccable.

The book, by the way, is a lovely story which showcases Marta’s love for her children as well as her love for trees.  She represents each of her 6 children as golondrinas, a bird that is common to Ecuador, who one by one leave the nest and find their tree to begin their lives as adults.  Many different trees are represented, including a saguaro cactus, which represents her son who lives in Arizona.  One of the paintings shows one of the birds returning to the mother with the text “trata otra vez” (he tried again).  I was that kid.  I get it.  No doubt her children will be very touched by the paintings and the story that accompanies them, especially given that they haven’t yet learned that she know how to paint! 

Sometimes getting to the prize at the end of the proverbial tunnel isn’t what you thought it would be.  I’ve got a new book to add to my growing collection of books I’ve made, but the gain here is not in the pages of that book but rather was the added gift of an unexpected friendship. There is always a purpose behind our chance meetings with people and some of those  relationships continue as they are needed in one way or another, while others fall away.  I’m hopeful that the friendship I’ve found with Marta will continue far beyond the pages of a book.