I am pretty sure I have written about this before, but the display of racial hatred in Charlottesville, Virginia this past 24 hours bears repeating. We all try to raise happy kids, right? And kids that will be kind to other kids, blah blah blah…. I think it is important to remember that BIG things start out as LITTLE things, both good and bad. Liberals, Feminists, whatever you want to call them, often get labeled for calling out acts of hatred 24/7, for acting as self-proclaimed watchdogs of ugliness. In my mind, this is a perfectly acceptable tradeoff – social condemnation in exchange for those constant, nitpicking little nudges of the moral conscience. With my children, I think I strove to teach them they did not have to draw attention to themselves or do anything to bring any kind of condemnation or isolation upon themselves. Instead, I tried to show them quiet, powerful ways of refusing to allow others to normalize hate.
My kids did their fair share of bickering when they were young. I tried to tune it out in my head until it became meanspirited. As soon as the bickering took a turn towards hatefulness, I would step in and announce the “penance”: each one had to do something kind for the other before bedtime. That was it. I did not “follow up” or punish by making them regret losing a favorite toy or pastime. I merely tapped into their moral conscience so they would think about the other for a moment and perform an act of kindness out of human decency. The end.
In this way, I hoped my children would learn to stop and think about others long enough to consider what they could do to alleviate pain and suffering.
Mario was always the first one to enthusiastically embrace words of kindness, acts of forgiveness and deeds of pure goodwill. It was so heartwarming to watch, really! Isa was more contemplative and less demonstrative of her willingness to change, yet she always eventually offered kindness in perfect measure to whatever the situation demanded.
In today’s culture of absolute intolerance, fear and hatred are running amuck. It is very difficult to perceive something as a small act of kindness as an antidote to the enormity of negative forces in our world. Still, with one small little lesson in mind from childhood, I hope my children will continue to practice kindness in the face of evil, knowing that their small efforts contribute to the healing balm of hope this world so desperately needs.
My one and only daughter, my beautiful Isabella, has recently turned 18 years old. I want to have profound things to say to her but every time I try, just a huge gush of emotion rushes forth. One thing I do keep thinking about is the time I let her Dad travel halfway across the country with her at six months of age to visit his cousin in Los Angeles. They were gone for four days, an eternity to this new Momma. We had no social media in 1999 so I could feel like I was a part of the adventure, only occasional phone calls to hear the cooing sound of her voice.
Through that little separation, I learned many things about my love for Isa and the kind of Mother I hoped to be for her. I wanted her childhood to be:
Full of adventures she could call her own, without me helicopter parenting in the background;
Grounded in a strong sense of family and self, so she would trust herself to make big decisions knowing that the love of her family would always support her;
Joyful enough so she would look forward to spreading her wings as an adult and sorrowful enough for her to understand that tears shed are a beautiful part of life’s journey and a reminder to be true to oneself and surrender love completely while the opportunity is given;
Magical in her own unique way, a time of exploring everything the senses could reach within the safety of a loving home;
Solidly anchored in self-love and a sense of personal competence and the ability to reject shame.
Over the years, my Isa’s comings and goings have been very bittersweet. When she returned home from her Los Angeles adventure, I played with her on the sofa all afternoon and cherished my good fortune to be the temporary guardian of her being. She hugged me and said “Mama!” when she first saw me after that separation, so I knew then that we would be lifelong friends. Today, I am awestruck by the beauty, strength and tenderness of her character and humbled to be her Mother.
James Taylor recorded a song in 1979 called “Honey, Don’t Leave L.A.”. It is his friend’s story about a French woman he fell in love with who ultimately left. Her spirit was indomitable. Just like my Isa.
My Dad used to say with a great deal of disdain, “Anybody can procreate.” The underlying meaning, of course, was that very few could raise children correctly. All I really ever wanted to be was a Mother. More than an archeologist, disc jockey, journalist, lawyer, nursing home administrator, speech therapist, French teacher, occupational therapist, florist or anything else – I have always “just” yearned to be a Mom – a really good one.
I always knew one absolute truth about Motherhood: If I was going to model my maternal style on my own Mother’s legacy, I had big shoes to fill. She managed to keep a clean house and serve three delicious squares every single day for 7 children (we won’t talk about emotional upheaval in between!).
Instead of absolute “perfection,” I have always aimed for a more realistic goal in my Mothering: meeting my child where she or he was and lifting the goodness where I saw it.
In other words, I have been more of a “let love and joy lead”kind of Mom (similar to my vision of the Divine – never harsh or judgmental, always searching for the Light).
Now in their teens, I see my 2 teenagers’ experience of my Motherhood a little more objectively, and the 3 strengths and 7 flaws are glaringly obvious. Here are the 7 things “good Moms” excel at that I really bombed:
Time ManagementAlthough we lived right across the street from the Library, my kids were always late to Story Time.
Potty TrainingInstead of motivational charts, I employed begging and pleading, which never worked. My daughter begged me to make her a chore chart when she was about 6 and, out of frustration, she ended up making her own!
VolunteeringI was my daughter’s Daisy Troop leader and those poor little girls never earned badges, it was just too much; I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class and total mayhem ensued and I had to be rescued by the School Social Worker.
Animals and KidsI thought the kids should have a puppy after my husband’s faithful and well trained Labrador passed away; Tango, the Boxer, made our lives wilder and more unpredictable than ever – if we weren’t searching for her with slices of cheese to encourage a timely and safe return home, I was scolding her for ruining a new rug or bringing home cow skulls.
Singing No, not ever did my kids enjoy singing with Mommy. Instead, they covered their ears and pleaded, “No!!!!!!,” but when Daddy started singing, they quickly became calm and content.
Nursing When my kids were sick, they wanted their Dad, the calm and steady soul.
Cooking One time, a culinary flop was so embarrassing, my 10-year-old daughter got up from the table and started making omelets for our guests. When I burned the bat-shaped cookies my son wanted to take to school for Halloween, he hugged me and said “Mom, I don’t know anybody who could have done better.”
In spite of these 7 maternal failings, I think my kids learned alot from their experiences! Fortunately, I managed to get 3 things right, and I think that is going to be enough to seal their future adult lives as positive and productive:
Compassion I am literally beaming with pride even today. When I visit their High School, I am almost always approached by a special needs student who proudly introduces him or herself as my son or daughter’s “FRIEND.” Somehow, I got this right! To be kind to the vulnerable and marginalized is not always second nature, and I guess, through living with me, my kids learned to practice (without knowing it) compassion. THIS and only THIS was my main goal as a Mom, and this job is complete. Thank you, God!
Acceptance/Inclusion There were times my kids were invited to do “yucky” things but instead of avoiding them, both my son and daughter would usually go and then come home and innocently share something amazing with me. Like the time my son was the only child who attended an unpopular boy’s birthday party and he came home and said, “Mom, did you know you can be 7 years old and STILL in kindergarten?!”. Or many times I observed my daughter sweetly ask a newcomer something about themselves, with genuine interest and warmth.
Celebrate I may have missed a few “learning opportunities” in the positive discipline arena while my children were growing up, but what they did experience alot of was celebrations of all kinds: the dog’s birthday; the first day the Christmas lights were on in our local park; the joint 5th and 50th birthday party of my husband and our son with the bouncy house; picnics and craft parties with Big Brothers Big Sisters; going to the movies with their cousins; giving Grandma and Grandpa gifts they bought at a truck stop on Interstate 70; taking the first rose that bloomed in our garden to a teacher; sitting on the front porch with our friend with Down Syndrome and eating a Sonic corn dog. Building moments to celebrate love, life and joy have been regular parts of my 2 kids’ upbringing, and I already see my daughter cultivating that kind of funloving, life-embracing attitude with her friends.
One thing I know for sure, when we did things at our house, we did them with GUSTO, and for that, I am proud. I hope my 7 shortcomings are forgiven and that my teenagers continue to move forward in life with open hearts and loving attitudes! We can’t all be champion chart makers…..
It’s the First Day of School…..again. Moms and Dads all over the world proudly and wistfully send their hearts out the door as their children take on a new year of challenges. I am all too familiar with the emotions this day brings. Big expectations and hopefulness, with a sprinkle of tears over the loss of another year of youth.
The start of a new school year is like a new chance – an opportunity to discover, redefine and experience life. Our kids probably don’t see it this way, but we parents know how rarely in life we get new chances – and how easy it can be to squander such a beautiful gift. THAT’S why it is bittersweet for us. We don’t want our kids to really know about the frightening and painful parts that new chances bring. Sentimentality overtakes our senses and before we know it, we are overlaying the new chance with memories, stories, pictures and gratitude our children were once innocent. That’s how the first day of school feels for me, anyway.
The backpacks stuffed with homemade craft projects coming in the door are in my past now. I have them all, they are overflowing in plastic tubs but many of them I have framed. The innocence and tenderness expressed through the art my children have bestowed upon us is one of the best experiences of parenthood. Now, instead of art projects, I look into their eyes for those signs of love and expressions of how they are relating to the world. This morning, I saw a freshness in my son’s eyes I have not seen in many years. Hopefully some of the storms of his early adolescence have passed. In my daughter’s eyes, I saw a beautiful, spirited young woman on the brink of leaving the nest – her “senior year” eyes. She loves her journey, and I think we are both on the same page: enjoy every minute.
So this brings me to my final point this morning: I have also been given a second chance, and today is a wonderful day to celebrate and “mark” it. 14 months ago, I began my recovery from addiction. I have been given a second chance to savor the present moment free from the numb world of alcohol. Living in the real world, fully present, each day committing to accepting my journey without altering it in any way – is a beautiful second chance. I am ready for Sophomore and Senior year of High School and incredibly humbled by the gift of this second chance. Even the difficult days are grounded in goodness because they are real and offer second chances to grow into the future.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
Today, I am home with my teenagers who have been throwing up. This causes me to fondly reflect upon previous such “special family times,” one which especially stands out in my memory from Spring 2007, the day my kids had to stay home and take care of their parents because they were both throwing up! My Isa, 7 years old at the time, divided her time that day between devotedly bringing her Dad and me our favorite popsicles then dancing outside in front of the house. This beautiful memory has led me to reflect upon the entire history of our family and my approach to parenting. I love being a Mom. In fact, it is all I have ever wanted to be. I used to ride my bicycle up and down my driveway as a little girl playing “carpool.” What I wouldn’t give to have a recording of those imaginary conversations!
Since my daughter is just a year away from graduating from High School, her Senior year of “lasts” looms largely in my mind. Anticipating each last. Hoping I will savor and enjoy them to their maximum. One of the images that I have discovered in my meditation practice this past year (as a recovering alcoholic with 10 months of sobriety) is a moving stream: if I feel emotionally depleted, I imagine myself dipping a beautiful vessel into a cool, clear stream and nourishing myself with Nature’s goodness. This type of imagery not only helps me sustain myself without relying on numbing substances, it is also a great way for me to re-frame the present moment. Instead of dreading new beginnings or fearing endings, I think of life and love as a continuous stream, a continuum that has no beginning or end. There for me to enjoy, participate in and freely use to sustain those around me (especially my teenagers). I am going to try to continue thinking about my daughter’s Senior year as a beautiful transition that is part of the stream.
Yet, my thoughts did manage to navigate toward a gnawing, very human question: if I had it to do over, would I change anything about the way I parented my young children? I have only five “regrets,” (a word I try to use sparingly, since it is dangerously close to resentment, which a recovering alcoholic cannot afford). Surprisingly, nothing on my “List of Five” has anything to do with taking away bad things – rather, it is more about wishing I had done MORE of the good things:
I wish I had not been so anxious to put my children into all-day kindergarten. After working with 6-year-olds these past four months, I know for sure how tired they are after a full day of school. I was a stay-at-home Mom and could have easily managed having a busy 6-year-old at home with me all day. But I decided to convince myself it would be “good for their social skills” to put the kids in all-day kindergarten. Ten years later, with so many working families, there are probably few choices other than full-day kindergarten. I wish I had savored my 6-year-olds a bit more. But what’s done is done.
I wish I had insisted on learning a musical instrument. We did our best as parents to expose our kids to live music of all sorts whenever possible. Our kids love music. But mastering a musical instrument is one of those life skills that is best undertaken in childhood, like learning another language. It was hard enough for me to get my kids to sports practices and school, so learning a musical instrument did not make it into our “MUST accomplish” top tier of parenting goals. I do regret this.
Spirituality practice – we went to church here and there and my children were “dedicated” into a church family before we moved 200 miles away – but I wish I had done more to teach them that celebrating and worshiping God with others is a beautiful part of a healthy inner life. My kids know that within them dwells a Source of love and goodness, and I believe they know how to tap into that and also live a life devoted to making the world better, not worse. It was so important to me not to force an “ideology” upon them, I may neglected to help guide and nourish the part of spirituality that includes others. My children are natural Seekers and very resourceful individuals, so I feel good about their ability to move in that direction later in life, if they choose.
More family meals. We average 1 sit-down family meal together per week. Better than nothing! I would get the job done more often now if my teenagers would participate – as I hear, many do! (I know it is part of many families’ teenagers regular responsibilities to help prepare and serve meals, which is so nice – I haven’t tried that). Like many moms in recovery, asking for help (or any kind of delegating), is not a natural part of my personality. I am thankful to still have time with both children at home to approach family meals more like something the entire family should help create.
MOST importantly, in the earlier days, I wish I had cared less about other Moms’ opinions! I remember hearing the phrase, “She’s got your number!” way too often and feeling hurt or irritated (or rejected by the “elite moms” who were doing it all perfectly). To this, I can only go back to a very lovely memory I have when, as a new Mom, I was holding my baby girl on one of her first airplane rides and the older woman sitting next to me very gently and kindly remarked, “Ah! What a beautiful, content baby! She has EVERYTHING she needs, Mom!”. We need to do more to encourage and support one another as parents. For me, that starts with being open and honest with one another. Being willing to admit that we aren’t perfect parents and we aren’t raising perfect children. As a Mom of teenagers, I do get more of this from my social interactions with other parents – much more so than in the early, competitive “toddler war” days.
So far, this journey of parenting two individuals with different temperaments, needs, likes, dislikes and aptitudes has been so beautiful. Looking back, I would like to have been able to relax more and enjoy the small moments. Looking forward, I am grateful to be living a healthy, clean and sober life, so the future with these incredible people God shared with me will be as vibrant as I feel.
Just going through some old photos this morning and found this gem and HAD to write a quick blog post. This is 2008, our daughter Isa was 9 and her brother, Mario was 7. Those were our pets, Tango the boxer and Boris the cat. We lived in a beautiful 5,000-sq ft home on 34 acres. At bedtime we might as well have had a studio apartment! For at least 2 years, this is what the “family bed” looked like. Mike (my husband) would sigh when the lights went out and quietly say, “There are ALOT of beating hearts in this room.” I loved it!
As Dad got “grumblier” about the situation, Isa would type “contracts” for him to sign designating a specific future date when the “family bed” situation would cease – but she always “filed” for an extension!
Fast forward to 2015: both children are normal (okay, that’s debatable!) and sleeping in their own beds. But they have memories of many nights in our “shared sleeping quarters” watching movies, talking, laughing, playing with the pets. Some people think this is nuts and I do sort of get their point. But I am SO GLAD we did it. It gave the children comfort when they needed it and we have lots of fun memories to look back on….especially after they flee the nest, which I am dreading, of course.
So, my advice to parents of young children struggling with the bedtime routine: give up! Enjoy being together now. I know there are all sorts of studies now encouraging “the family bed” but I don’t know where they are or what they are saying about the benefits. I know my 1950’s-era parents thought I was the WORST POSSIBLE type of wishy-washy parent while this was going on. The 7 of us were sent marching up the stairs at bedtime with 1 “regulation size” cup of water and ordered to SHUT UP AND GO TO SLEEP! Anyone who dared get out of bed and tiptoe downstairs again had better be ready for the WRATH of my DAD!!!
At one point, tired of the “charade” of pretending to resist my children’s nightly pleas to sleep on my floor, I just gave in and bought 2 air mattresses at Wal-Mart for the Master Bedroom floor. In my opinion, this was one of the best investments I ever made.
My parents never told me whom I should choose as a friend, but they definitely showed me. My Mom often spoke of her very first best friend in the 1930’s, an African American girl named Carliss. They played every afternoon together for hours in the alley behind Mom’s house. An unusual pairing for the time period and rural setting in the South, to be sure. As for Dad, he had 3 best friends his entire life and a million acquaintances that he treated with kindness and respect always. As a kid growing up in a small town, I felt proud knowing that my Dad was well liked and known as a decent, fair, funny person.
With those concepts about friendship on my heart, I have lived a very colorful life sustained by many friends from vastly different backgrounds and perspectives. Here are the 7 ESSENTIAL friends I think everybody would benefit from knowing:
A Kindergartener – Because of their innocence and devotion to making their mark, a kindergartener is about as easy and charming a friend you will ever have! In my own experience, of course, these were my 2 children, with very different personalities though the same deadly sweet kindergarten-ish enthusiasm. Isa would hop in the car each afternoon from her long day at school and give me the “dot report” – who received the most velcro-backed ladybug markings on their name to represent bad behavior. She never had more than 1 and was very proud of this fact! Mario, on the other hand, shared that his teacher only gave them “7 minutes to daydream,” but later added that she had told him he was “very handsome”! If you have never been friends with a kindergartener, I recommend seeking one out at once!!!
A Septuagenarian – Edith Marsh lived in the apartment below me when I was in my mid-20’s and she was 93. She had lost nearly everybody she loved in her life except her daughter who visited weekly. We became best friends! I would come home from work to find her sitting in her dark kitchen with the television on watching her favorite Kansas City Royals. She would bring me homemade molasses cookies (I never had the heart to tell her I hate molasses!) and on snow days we would sit on her “divan” and chat about her husband, Homer, who had been so loving and devoted to her. Edith told me I shopped too much and that I needed to “reel in a husband”!!!! I was devastated when she died and lonely for a long time, in spite of my many friends my age. Edith knew something about life that nobody else I had ever met understood – you can’t enjoy it by being a whiner!
Someone “Differently Wired” – I have had lots of friends that fit in this category but today, the one that sticks in my mind is another neighbor in the quirky little apartment building I lived in as a single woman. I think her name was “Ann.” It seemed she was a bit crazy, as all she did was carry a bag and cheerfully pick up trash in our neighborhood. Of course, I admired her because of her smile and her bright red lipstick! So I started talking to her. Turns out, she believed that the service she was providing was all to honor Jesus, the man to whom she had always compared other men and the reason why she never married! As odd as “Ann” was, I am always attracted to people who are just a little bit off – because you can learn so much from them if you listen to what motivates them!
Someone Who Has Lost Everything -I am cheating a bit here because Buddy was really my husband’s friend, only mine by “association.” But he inspired us both. First, because he was a hard-working man and someone from outside the “silk stocking” Law Firm world that most of our friends came from. But second, because Buddy was surviving the tragic loss of his wife and daughter who were killed by a drunk driver. He lived everyday with unspeakable sadness and carried the weight of this huge loss on his heart. Yet Buddy made a decision to try to enjoy life and do some things he had never tried before – a “bucket list,” of sorts. He was a simple man with lots of wisdom and we were so lucky to know him. He died about 18 months after losing his wife and daughter in a tragic hit-and-run motorcycle accident. Even though his life ended senselessly, we had never seen anybody so wounded make better use of the time they had here on Earth. We both learned from Buddy that attitude is everything.
Someone Who Loves Music– We all have friends like this! The one that sticks out in my mind is my Dad’s college friend from Hawaii, Martin Luke.
He came to visit us a few times as I was growing up and he always brought his ukulele – an instrument that was very strange to me! My Dad would absolutely light up when Martin would pull out the ukulele and together they would sing the songs of their college years in the 1940’s like “Don’t Go Under The Old Apple Tree”. I watched them together enjoying this strange music on an odd instrument – 2 friends from vastly different backgrounds – and I understood that music can bring people together who would otherwise never have anything in common. Very cool.
An Idealist – I had never met one until I was in Graduate School and Myra came to speak at a Gerontology Class. She brought Dan Callahan’s controversial book about setting limits on scarce health care resources by restricting access for patients over a certain age. And I argued with her. And she smiled and thought I was “cheeky.”
From there began a long friendship and working relationship with this remarkable woman with wildly liberal ideas! My life would have been so dull if I had never met this beautiful woman, the Idealist in my life, Myra. I am still so grateful.
Someone Who Is Extremely Kind to Animals –
I never really gave much thought to animals, their needs and special gifts and their unique place on this planet, until I became a Mother. Yes, I had pets that I loved as a child and young adult, but it wasn’t until I witnessed the transformative power of love between human and animal with my own children that I began to think of them as very special. In the last few years, I have met many people who do amazing things in the animal rescue world and I admire them so much. And the brave friends who help us “escort our beloved pets to the rainbow bridge” I could never do without. There is one such friend, in particular, Colleen, who does this for people having a tough time saying goodbye to their dear pets – family members, really. Colleen has a special gift and if you don’t know someone who would lay down their own life for an animal, I recommend you seek one out – they are beautiful souls!
Before parents and institutions made summer about either catching up or advancing skills, summer was once a glorious time of slowing down and enjoying life. Children were not only free to follow their imaginations wherever they could take them while spending time with family – they were expected to. There were no “summer nannies” that were temporarily in charge of a rigorous weekly schedule of commitments. Only grandparents and siblings with the means to help keep younger children happily occupied.
I keep hearing and reading about “Tips for Having a 70s Summer” as if there were a magical, secret formula – when it is really the simplest thing in the world to do!
Growing up, summer at my house was about 5 things, not in any particular order – and it required no training or money. Just the desire to float along carefree……
1. Family Since my 6 older brothers and sisters went to boarding school for High School, summer was the epitome of action at my house. Suddenly, our house was flooded with teenagers each summer, and I relished spending time with each one as much as they may have resented it (and some did!!!). After awhile, if I had been a very good girl, Mim, my Grandmother, would invite me to her house for an overnight stay!
I got to drink Orange Crush (one only, so I would not wet the bed) at Mim’s house and then raid the “secret drawer” (which, of course, she knew was not a secret) in my Dad’s old bedroom for sticks of Doublemint gum. Mim had a sweet laugh and everything about her seemed so ladylike to me – the smell of her skin, the touch of her perfectly manicured hands on mine – I was always on my best behavior on those special summer overnight
Your Uncle JD had a garage band. They played cool Rolling Stones songs like “Jumping Jack Flash” and the band members, Louie and Bobby, let me stand on a chair and pretend to be playing tambourine. No wonder I married your Dad,”Mike Tamburini”!!!
There were 2 teenaged albums I was especially curious about – the one with the 2 white guys and their wives – but one of them had an African American wife (Seals & Crofts).
The other album was in Uncle Jeff and Uncle JD’s room, and I was forbidden from ever playing it. Oh, yeah?
3. The Outdoors
It was not a punishment to play in the yard growing up – in fact, I actually had to be called inside for supper.
Always a huge fan of Grandma Rhetta, I tried to be right by her side when she was taking the freshly dried sheets off the laundry line. Here’s some great advice, too, kids: It is fun to put a clothespin on your nose and talk!
4. Food Of course, Mom was a great cook and produced “3 squares” for all of us plus our friends every single day. But on many occasions, our family would drive to the river and take the barge across to the great state of Tennessee for fried catfish and hushpuppies.
5. Reading I never had to be told to go to my room and read. I rode my bicycle to town several times a week and checked out great books on my own. My friend, Julie, and I would compete to see who could read the most. These were my 2 favorites:
When summer was coming to an end, the farmers would drive by my house with trailers full of freshly picked cotton on their way to the Killion-Rone-Wilson Cotton Gin – you know, the stuff your clothes are made of? Oh, and do you recognize your Grandpa’s last name somewhere in that lineup?
One time I got to ride in the back of one of those cloud-filled trailers with my friends Annie, Jimmy and Michael – I paid for it the next day with my sneezing, but it was one of the most memorable rides to town I ever experienced.
So, my darling children, I have tried to give you summers that are less about “achievement” and more about “experience,” but it is not so easy as it once was. I have enjoyed every minute of our summers together, it will always be a magical time for me as your Mom. Just thought you should know some of the reasons why our family isn’t as busy as other families – and happily so!!!!