Memories of Motherhood


This post started out to be humorous, but it just changed. Very suddenly.

Oh, life, you funny old thing.

I spent today, as I do every Monday through Friday, with my best buddy, my heart, my love, my granddaughter Ellie. I am in love with her eyes, her grin, her crazy curly hair. I am in love with the shape of her nose and her long fingers and toes. I practically swoon with pleasure when she waddles across the room to throw herself into my arms.

I get to snuggle every day with her warm little head pressed to my cheek. I get to hear her say, “Hi” when she comes in and “night, night” as she falls asleep for her nap. I have no more work stress, no more long commute. No paperwork. My only boss is my first born child, who is definitely not bossy.

Today I thought to myself, “I don’t remember motherhood being this perfect and sweet!”

Yes. I did jinx myself.

Our Ellie is a little peanut of a girl. We try to give her high calorie foods because she’s just tiny. She eats like a starved wolf, but she doesn’t seem to put on weight. She did NOT get her Nonni’s metabolism.

However, she poops more than the average baby. Or the average horse, I’d dare to say.

So this afternoon, after having fed her breakfast, played with her, put her down for a nap, changed her poops twice and given her a bath, I found myself faced with yet another poopie diaper and a little red bum. I said to her, “You stay naked for a bit, and I’ll run downstairs real quick to get the laundry.”  I figured that the air would be good for her skin.

I left her in one of those cute onesie shirts with the snaps between her legs open and the front and back flapping along in the breeze. She stood at the gate at the top of the stairs and I ran down, pulled the clothes from the dryer and raced back up.

There she stood, bent forward at the waist. Playing with both hands in a lovely puddle of pee all over my floor. She was literally splashing it.

I burst through the gate, threw the clothes onto a chair and scooped her up. Her shirt was soaked. The floor was soaked. Her hair was….well….soaked. Back into the tub. No more empty hamper. I washed the floor as I held Ellie on one hip.

Holy exhaustion, Batman. I just remembered that motherhood is not all warm snuggles and adorable shampooed curls. Motherhood- and grandmotherhood- is back aches and endless repeated chores. And puddles of pee.

Then I logged onto Facebook so I could show nice clean Ellie the pictures of her new baby cousin.

I saw a picture posted by a young relative. A beautiful young woman in our family sent a happy birthday message to her 95 year old Great Grandmother.

And I thought, what a gift! To live long enough and well enough to celebrate with a great grandchild. Wow.

So tonight, as I sink into my hot tub with a glass of wine and get ready to clean up the dozens of toys on the floor and the mess on the table, I’ll appreciate every bit of today. I’ll hold onto the kisses and the laughter. And I’ll make myself enjoy the memory of that baby girl splashing in a puddle of her own pee on my floor.

Ya gotta love it.

img_20160928_135933

Ah, beautiful child.


Twenty four years ago today I gave birth to my third child. My baby. My last hurrah. The icing on our family cake.

This boy.

photo 2

This fine young man.

557257_10151159869445899_1335623407_n

My gentle hockey player. My thoughtful activist. My handsome, sweet Tim.

I’m sitting here in my living room this evening, glass of red wine in hand. I’m listening to “Pachelbel’s Canon in D.”  We had that on the radio on the morning of June 11, 1992 as we drove east, toward the rising sun. Our two other children dozed in their carseats behind us. Paul and I held hands, listening.

This was my third birth. Number one was the practice child. I was terrified heading in to deliver her. Number two came with some delays and some confusion. I didn’t know that what I was feeling was labor as I went to the hospital to be “induced” with him.

But with number three, I felt as if I had finally arrived. I knew what to expect. I was ready.

And he came with no scary surprises.  He came into our lives on a bright, sunny day. I looked at him and my heart melted.

Happy birthday, beautiful child. Happy birthday, beautiful young man.

Thanks for being as loving and sweet as you were when I first gathered you into my loving arms.

And thanks for being the best brother to Matt, who greeted you in the hospital 24 years ago by throwing a leggo train at your head.

I adore you both.

Thanks for being a fabulous and supportive brother to Katie, and a wonderful Uncle to our Ellie!

You made us a whole family.

Smooch.

SONY DSC

My three biggest achievements.

Something to look forward to


When my husband and I were very young, in the very beginning of our life together, we often found ourselves saying, “I’m so glad we have something to look forward to!”

Of course, we were young, in love, starting our lives.  We had friends and jobs and an entire future ahead of us.  Still, sometimes the weeks seemed to stretch out ahead of us with nothing but work, classes, work and more classes.  We used to need “something to look forward to”.  Something to get our excitement up, our adrenaline rushing, our moods lifted.  It could be a party, a trip, a concert….it didn’t really matter, as long as we could hold it up in our immediate future and get a lift out of the anticipation of the event.

I remember Christmas of 1985.  I was very pregnant with our first child. We didn’t know yet who this child would be.  Male or female?  Dark eyed or light? Happy? Cranky? Healthy or not?  We didn’t know.

But I remember one night, just a few days before Christmas and perhaps two weeks before my due date.  Paul had fallen asleep, but my back was hurting, and so I was still awake.  I lay on the sofa in our little run down apartment in one of Boston’s seedier neighborhoods.  I had a blanket over the mound of my stomach, and my hand was resting on the place where my baby moved.

I had turned out all of the lights, leaving only the Christmas tree illuminated.  I lay there, looking at each ornament, watching the way that the lights reflected off the garland.  I felt myself breathing, and listened to the imagined heartbeat of my baby.  I looked at the lights.  I waited.

“You know what?”, I whispered to my big gray cat, who sat beside me in my midnight vigil.  “I’ll never ever have another moment with nothing to look forward to.”  I smiled to myself, the palm of my hand feeling the gently rolling movement of my firstborn inside of me.

And I was right.

Twenty nine years later, I am lying on my couch, my eyes taking in the color of the Christmas lights.  I can see the pile of wrapped gifts with my granddaughter’s name on them.

“You know what?”, I whisper to my old dog. “I have so much to look forward to!”

A Dog and His Boy


photo 5

There is just something about a dog and his boy.  My dogs just love our boys.  In fact, they love pretty much any boys.

Now that our sons are grown and gone, we can get the same squeals of delight from our dogs when our nephews, cousins, neighbors or any other boys come to the house.

There’s just something about a dog and his boys.

So I’m sure that my dogs will be very happy to hear that we have a boy, an honest-to-God boy, coming to live with us for the rest of the school year.  He is a sixteen year old German exchange student.  He was in need of a home, and this nest was in need of some life.

I’m sure that Tucker and Sadie will be almost as happy as I will be to have him here.

I hear that he likes to eat.  And as you may know, I like to cook.  Perfect.

Of course, I’m pretty nervous tonight.  He arrives tomorrow.  I have baked chocolate chip bars.  There’s chicken brining for dinner.  His room is clean, his bed is made, and I have mopped the floor.

I want him to be happy here. I want him to be comfortable.  I want him to feel that he is welcome.

When I was his age, I was the student, far away from home, looking for acceptance and love in a new family.  I was lucky.  I found both.  My Tunisian family took me in, fed me delicious meals, entertained me, laughed with me, took me to see the sights. I remember the meals, the conversations, the music. I remember the smell of the summery air, and the sound of the wooden carriage wheels on the cobbled streets outside my window.

I don’t remember noticing whether or not the house was clean.

Still, tonight I am cleaning and organizing and scrubbing.  I have even brushed the dogs.

I know I’m being silly.  He won’t care if there is dust.  But another woman’s son will be coming here, to our house. Another woman, far away, will be trusting me to care for her boy.  She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that I’ll be kind.  She doesn’t know that the dogs will be here to greet him, with wagging tails and doggy smiles.

So as I wait for the bars to cool and the laundry to finish drying, I think back to my arrival in Kairouan, so long ago.  I think about how easy it was for me to settle into my Tunisian home, with my wonderful family. I want that experience for our guest!

And I look at the dogs, snoozing on the nice clean floor at my feet. I reach down to pat their soft heads, listening to the comforting sound of their snores.

“Guys”, I say, although neither of them moves, “I have great news.  Dad and I have decided to get you a boy.”

 

Your Every Christmas Wish


603733_10200837417355233_1874374034_nWhen I was little, I could fill myself with the feeling of Christmas by lying in bed in the glow of the orange window lights. The bulbs were hot, so hot that we had to be very careful to keep the shades hight above them, and the curtains fully open.  The warm orange glow was so different from the usual pale nightlight glow that as we fell asleep, my sister and I would feel as if we were being wrapped in magic.  I can still conjure the feeling of drifting to sleep with my face turned toward that orange, orange light. Waiting for Santa and for the magic of Christmas morning.

As I got a little bit older, into my teens, I learned to lie on the rug with all of the lamps in the room off. I would lie as close to the Christmas tree as I could, after turning all of its big bright colored lights on. I’d look up into the branches and squint my eyes a bit. The fat, bright lights would reflect in the long silvery strands of tinsel and I would get that feeling in my stomach; that “Christmas” feeling.  I’d think about what gift I might get (new albums by Joan Baez, Fleetwood Mac, Judy Collins were high on my list).  I would be filled with giddy anticipation and that magic feeling would flood me again.

Then I became a Mom. Christmas was more magical than ever.  That feeling, that magical Christmas feeling was all about them.  I could fill myself with the magical feeling of Christmas by looking at their beautiful eyes, reflecting the glowing lights of our tree. Motherhood is magic; Motherhood on Christmas morning is indescribable.

Now they’re all grown up.  Our familiar fake spruce tree is long gone.  I sit here alone in my quiet house, resting up a bit before the big family celebrations begin.  I’m thinking about later tonight, and tomorrow morning. I’m thinking about the few hours when I can gather all of them around me, my beautiful daughter and her smiley eyed husband, my two handsome sons, my husband.  I think about “that Christmas feeling”, and how much I’m looking forward to holding it close.  Tomorrow that feeling will come when there is a moment with all of us in this room.  There will be half filled coffee cups everywhere, and piles of wrapping paper on the floor.  The house will smell of bacon, and the dogs will be watching eagerly for a crumb to fall. Paul will be wrapped in a blanket, dozing a bit.  I’ll stand in the dining room for a minute. I’ll look around the room.  I’ll stand where I can see all of them, all of their familiar faces.  The conversation will be completely casual, about nothing much.  Someone will say something funny, like they always do, and everyone will laugh together.  I’ll wipe my hands on my apron, look from face to sweet face, and laugh along with them.

I’ll be filled once again with the magical orange light and sparkly tinsel feelings of Christmas.

The Touchstone


1497715_10151793825170899_1174165898_n  197889_1899804052309_8304611_n

When my first child was about two, I noticed that she had a habit of running away from me when I put her down.  She’d run away, giggling the whole time, then rush back toward me with her hands reaching.  She would hurl herself against my legs, hugging tightly, pressing her cheek to my knee.  Then off she’d run again, running away from me, leaving me behind.

I noticed after a while that she only ran away if I was firmly planted and in plain sight. If I was walking, she would stay right by my side.

When my next baby turned two, I found him doing the very same thing. Running away, giggling, but rushing right back to throw his sturdy little body against mine. He was less subtle than his sister, though, and I remember him calling to me as he hurried away, “Mommy!  I going! I going!”

By the time my third child was a toddler, I had learned to expect and to understand the phenomenon of the escaping child.  I had come to understand that it was important to let them try out their newfound independence. It was important to let them rush away, to leave me behind.

And I’d learned that it was even more important for me to expect them back, to stay where I was, to be the solid foundation that let them hurl themselves back to safety when they’d gone too far.

I had learned that it was my job to trust them, and not to pull them back, even when I was afraid.

Now my children are grown.  All three are adults, and one is happily married.

But you know what? That valuable lesson that my babies taught has turned out to still be true.  I still need to let my children run away. I still need to be steady and sure and in one place, so that they can come back.

Over the years, each of my children has found a need to rush back, just for a bit, just to reassure themselves that we are here, that home is still safe, that our knees will still withstand the force of their return.

My nest is empty, but it is still the nest.  My fledglings are off, flying to new places, making their own new nests.

But I know that when they are hurt, or sad, or confused, they can come back.  I know that it is the existence of our “nest”, and Dad and I in it, that lets them go off to try new things.

We are home.  And home is the place they can come back to when they need to regroup.

I’ve realized that we are to our children what my Grandparents were to my Dad in this old photo.  What my parents were to me and to my siblings.

We are the touchstone.

What a gift.

Don’t be fooled by the MOB.


Well, the wedding has come and gone.  Phew!

 

Don't mistake this look for serenity.

Don’t mistake this look for serenity.

This seems like a good time to give you an insightful glimpse into the mind of the MOB (which is what they call you for a about a year before the event in which you will be the “Mother of the Bride”.)

For some of you, it may be helpful to learn about what happens in the mind of the MOB as the big day approaches; after all, a lot of you will be a MOB yourself before too long!

For others, this post may help you to cope when your own wife/mother/sister/friend becomes a MOB.

And the rest of you will probably just laugh and think, “Thank God this will never happen to me because  a) I am a man; b) I am never ever ever planning to have a kid;   c) I am an old lady raising cats who now feels a lot better about my life choices.”

The pressures on the MOB before the wedding cannot possibly be overstated.  This is especially true if the bride is a mature, independent, capable young woman who doesn’t need or want you to do much.  At first this will seem like a blessing, but as the wedding day gets closer and closer, you will begin to wish that you had been included in every single tiny detail.

You see, the week before the wedding, people will start to ask you a lot of questions that you can’t answer, so you immediately go into a panic.  Kind of like this:

“What are the groomsmen wearing?”   “Um…..pants?”

“What time will the caterer arrive?”  “Not sure. In time to cook!”

“Where should we put all the wine?”  “Ah…I…um…just leave it with me.”

You’ll also start waking up in the middle of the night (as the day gets closer, the wake-ups happen more often.  By the night before the rehearsal, you’ll wake up every 14 seconds). You will be jolted out of sleep by burning questions like, “What if a sudden tornado blows through and everyone is lifted up and dropped over Kansas?”  and “What if I fall off the dance floor?!!”  In the brief periods where you do sleep, you will be overwhelmed by nightmares featuring giant black bears invading the wedding venue, drunken Uncles brawling on the porch, and suddenly realizing that you are on the dance floor stark naked.

What this all means, of course, is that by the time everyone you know and love appears in a giant throng to take endless pictures of you, will look like a refugee from a war zone. The bags under your eyes will be bigger than the big white wedding tent.  Your hands will shake, and the golden tan that you so carefully worked on last week will have faded to the color of pasty oatmeal.  This is the image that you will have of yourself:

The internal MOB.

The internal MOB.

In spite of all the stress, though, the big day will eventually come. You’ll carefully pack every single item that you or the bride could possibly want or need, and head off for the weekend.  You’ll arrive at the hotel that you chose months ago, only to find that there are no more “non-smoking rooms” available, and that you and your kids are booked into “rooms-so-filled-with-smoke-that-we-offer-free-asthma-inhalers”.  You’ll do your best to put a positive spin on the situation, telling yourself that it will be awesome to sound like Lauren Bacall at your daughter’s wedding, and ignoring the fact that you will smell like Humphrey Bogart at your daughter’s wedding.

You’ll go to the rehearsal with your family and the wedding party, where (if you are half as lucky as we were) the wonderful minister will manage to keep everyone under control long enough to do a run through of the event before they dive into the Irish Whiskey. You and the MOG (figure it out, people) will gulp your wine and compare notes on your respective neuroses.  You’ll try to figure out if its a good thing or a bad thing that you’re both having nightmares about black bears.  You’ll reassure each other a thousand times that “everything will be fine!”

And then the wedding day will dawn.  You’ll drink four gallons of water because your throat is so dry from nerves.  But you will immediately realize that you’ll have to pee 700 times before the ceremony. You are a middle aged woman.  This can be a problem. This fact will make you more nervous, meaning you’ll need more water. You will wonder when you can switch to wine.

You’ll take the kids out to breakfast at a cute little diner where everyone moves at roughly the speed of a melting glacier.  Your face will smile and chat with the family, but your brain will run a constant loop of reminders: “flowers, basket for flower girl, petals for basket, gift for the bride, make-up, computer for the music, deodorant, green tablecloth….flowers, basket for flower girl….”  

Even though you know that you have brought every single thing you could possibly need for the celebration, the bride will text you to ask you to stop for hairpins and cold cuts. You’ll be happy to have something constructive to do as the clock inexorably ticks down toward the ceremony, but you’ll have a mini-panic attack when you realize that you’re in a far off land where you don’t exactly how to find a grocery store or a CVS. Lucky for you, the young people at the table know how to use an iPhone, and you’ll plan out your route.

At last, at last, the time will come for you to rush frantically back to the hotel to get dressed and ready.  This is a day that you have dreamed of for years.  Your emotions are on high.  You and the FOB keep looking at each other with sappy grins.  The two of you share memories of the cute little girls who once played “brides” together on your lawn, and who will now fulfill the roles of Bridesmaids, Maid of Honor and (gulp) Bride.  Your nerves begin to settle, and you are filled with love and appreciation for the wonderful privilege of seeing your daughter married to a man who loves her to distraction.

You will step into the shower, humming the song that will always make you think of your baby girl and how intensely you will always love her.

Then you’ll step out of the shower and think to yourself, “What kind of freakin’ idiot thought it was a good idea to put a full size mirror opposite the shower?” 

Just remember, no one has ever said, “It was a great wedding, except for that scab on the MOB’s elbow.”  You and the MOG were right; everything will in fact be fine. Everyone will smile, and hug and wipe away tears as the truly happy couple exchanges vows. You’ll dance and sing together, you’ll toast each other, you’ll introduce your friends to your family.  It will be incredible.

And at the end of the night, your beautiful daughter will kiss you and thank you and say, “Mom, this was so perfect! Thank you!”

An Orange Juice Awakening


I have always had a pretty clear idea of what it means to be a great Dad.  I grew up with one of the best, and his model was always there for me to see.

When my own kids were little, though, I think that I took their father very much for granted.  He was always there, always involved in every aspect of their lives, always my partner.  He did laundry. He shopped.  He never hesitated to cope with the dirtiest of diapers or the worst midnight vomit eruptions.  He never made a fuss; he just quietly did what needed to be done.

Our kids always took Paul’s love and support as simply a part of the fabric of their lives. They didn’t ever question that love or worry that it might go away or somehow become less.  He was just there; he was Dad.

The sun rose in the sky, the earth turned and Dad was always there to help and guide in his understated way.

It wasn’t until all three of our children had grown up and moved out that I think they began to understand the depth of what their father has always given to them.  They started to realize what it takes to be a father; what it takes to be that man who is the foundation of his children’s life.

I remember one particular moment, when our youngest child had a revelation about his Dad.  Tim had come home from college for a weekend, and was pouring himself a glass of orange juice.  He made a little sound, and said, “Huh.  Why is there pulp in this juice?”  I answered, “Because Dad likes his juice with pulp.”

Tim stood still, the carton in his hand, his green eyes wide. I saw him thinking it over, and knew the moment when he understood.  “You mean, all these years, we had juice with no pulp just because we kids didn’t like it?  Dad never had the kind of juice he likes, for all these years?”

He was astounded, but I know that he wasn’t surprised.

I wanted to tell him that a father’s love comes with much bigger sacrifices than this one, but in a way, it was the power of all of the tiny actions that really define what it is to love your child.

Paul didn’t just teach our kids to drive; he taught them to check the oil and change a flat. He didn’t just give them an allowance, he taught them about saving and about credit cards and always paying yourself first.  He didn’t only read them books at night, he stayed in the room until they were safely asleep.

And he didn’t ever tell them that he was quietly giving up the pulp in his morning juice, just for them.

Happy Father’s Day, Paul! 

You've earned your time in the sun!

You’ve earned your time in the sun!

‘Round and Round


I know that I keep writing about this, but I am so often struck by the ways in which my life keeps showing me all of its connections.

I find myself reminded, over and over again, of how every relationship, every person we love, creates a connection to other people and other loves and other actions.

I’m sorry if this is repetitive.

Actually, no I’m not.   This theme is repetitive because it just keeps on happening to me.  Life is a series of synchronous connections. We are all enmeshed in a web of love.

Today I had yet another reminder of the circular nature of life.  It was…….

I can’t describe it.  It was lightning striking.

Two years ago, my young colleague was planning her wedding.  Our good friend, Lesley,  was the seamstress who was making her dress.  Two years ago, nearly to the day, my friend tried on her homemade dress in the bathroom at our school. We all peeked in, we oohed and aaahed and told her that she was beautiful.  Because she was!  I wiped a tear as I looked at her, remembering my own wedding so many years before.

Two summers ago, my young colleague got married, in her home stitched dress. Paul and I were there to celebrate with her. Our daughter Kate was there, too, with her new boyfriend. It was a magical night and all four of us had a wonderful time.

Today my daughter tried on her wedding dress. She is marrying the “new boyfriend” in a few weeks.

The dress is being sewn by our good friend, Lesley, who made the one two years ago.  In fact, the pattern that Lesley is using is the very same one that she used to make my colleague’s dress.

One dress was palest pink, one is vibrant green; both are beautiful and both fit the bride who chose it.

Today, almost two years to the day after watching my friend try on her dress, I stood in the same school bathroom, smiling at my radiant daughter in her lovely green gown.  I wiped away a tear as I looked at her.

And today, two years after her wedding, my friend is in labor, working to give birth to her first child.  I’ve spent all day worrying, thinking of her, sending her support and love and deep, cleansing breaths.

Around and around and around.  Life goes on and passes its magic and flows from one dream to another.

Tonight I am so filled with hope; waiting for my daughter to be married in her sylvan gown; waiting to hear that my friend is holding her son in her arms at last.

Negative Space


BGM examples_negative space & positive space

 

I teach fifth grade in a school which focuses on the integration of art into all parts of the curriculum.  Since I have literally no background in the visual arts, I have learned a tremendous amount in my twenty years at our school.

One of the concepts which was introduced to me during my very first year was the idea of  “negative space”.  I learned about negative space when our art teacher passed by my classroom one morning and saw the funny, lopsided little cut-out picture that my then third grade daughter had created to decorate my door.  Honestly, I didn’t think much of it, and found it a little bit crude and messy. But I hung it up because I love my daughter dearly, and I wanted her know it.

I had all but forgotten about the little image until the art teacher stopped in my doorway and exclaimed, “Oh, who made that?  What a great use of negative space!”  I blinked, looked at the funny little cut out, and told her that Katie had done it. “She has such a great eye!”, said Margo.  “I love it.”

She then went on to describe the idea of negative space in art; how an artist can use the part of the image or sculpture that contains nothing to clarify or refine what we see.

Here is another example of how negative space creates the image:

 

The white part, the negative space, is clearly the most important.

The white part, the negative space, is clearly the most important.

You get the idea, right? It is the absence of color, texture, shape that gives the piece its true image.  The art is created by what is not there.

I have been thinking about this concept for the past week, because I have come to realize that in my empty nest life, summers are my “negative space”.

In my mommy days, summers were the busiest times.  I had my three children, and often their friends, to feed, entertain, clothe, care for.  I had my children to laugh with, to travel with, to shuttle from place to place. There were beach days, and movie days. Zoo trips, hikes, rainy day art projects and “We’re making a fort!” days.  Cookies to bake, ice cream trucks to await, grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of popcorn and Disney channel marathons.  Every minute was full.

During the school year, of course, every minute was full then, and it is full now.  School days are positive space, there is no doubt.

But summer now is simply negative space.

I try to stay busy, although I know that I am in desperate need of rest after the rigors of the school year. I get together with friends, I visit my Mom.  I teach for a week or two, and I take classes for a week or two.  I plan little projects to do around the house. I give myself a routine to follow; the elliptical every other day, a good long walk with the dogs each morning, gardening most afternoons.  I make a good dinner and enjoy it with Paul when he comes home. We have weekends away with friends and family.

But summer is still mostly negative space.

It is the absences that define me in the summer. There are few demands on my time; no one needs me to be home, to be in the car, to be at the park or the hockey rink.  I am free. I can go wherever I want to go most days.  But with no company, there is no place that calls to me, and I stay home.

It is the absence of voices around me that defines me in the summer.  Some days (not many, thank goodness, but some days) I hear only my own voice from the time Paul leaves to the time when he comes home.  I put on music, or I watch the news, just so that I can hear someone’s voice.  I go to the library or to the farm stand, just to chat for a bit.

Too much negative space.

I’m just smart enough to know that these quiet contemplative days are good for me, but they make me uncomfortable.  I know that the absences impact and shape the image that is “me” right now, just as the negative space in the portrait above lets us see the woman.

Without the negative space, we couldn’t see the woman’s beauty or fragility.

I guess we are all made up of both positive and negative space. We reflect all that we have, and all that is missing.  I guess we have to accept all of the space if we are going to fully appreciate the art.