Mother’s Day

First of all I’d like to wish everyone a very, happy Mother’s Day. Whether you are a newbie wet with breast milk and pee stains, or a veteran empty nester, or a virtual mom, those delightfully generous people who don’t have children but make your children’s life that much richer.

Phew. That’s over. Now let’s talk about the beast. The holiday. Actual Mother’s Day. As many of you know I have three boys, some unspoken wishes that I’ve had for Mother’s Day are no pee anywhere on a bathroom floor, leftovers that would last two nights,  conversation without grunts, more eye contact and spontaneous help around the house (garbage full? let me empty it, recycles need to go out in 30 degree weather? I’ll do it) and of course less electric time, more face time looking at their actual faces.

So I’m never disappointed with my card flowers and cleaned out car (nothing says I love you better than degrunging my van from three boys, one of which plays on soccer turf fields and leaves little turf turds behind him as if he was Hansel and Gretel).

But this Mother’s Day we have one of those crazy crises regarding soccer tryouts and an elective practice on, you guessed it, Mother’s Day. There’s a bit of drama this year with soccer. Some opportunities did not go well, elevating the meaning of this elective practice.

My son who is not a basset hound but can transform his beautiful blue eyes to cisterns of sadness says “Mom, it’s Mother’s Day we don’t have to go.” My husband was already nodding in agreement, but something in me alerted as if I was checking on a crying baby, or doing an intricate carpool move, or administering Motrin to a sweaty, sick head. After a moment or two of confusion, I recognized the sensation. It was my Mom alarm, the intrinsic half mystical, half practical, half lysol, part of me that recognized that my child had a need.

“Of course you’re going to the practice,” I said smiling proudly. “It’s Mother’s Day, the best day in the world to demonstrate how much I value being your mother.

Jaws were dropped, game controllers went silent.  “But it’s Mother’s Day,” he insisted as four pair of eyes searched my face for signs of early Alzheimer’s.

“I love being your mother, and if can do something for you as simple as getting you to this practice then I am going to be very happy.” After all, trying to be a good mom on Mother’s Day kind of makes sense.

Silence, uncomfortable shuffling, looks of gaping doubt. I just smiled. It always feels good to be a mother when you know you can do something important for your child, especially since my kids are beyond juice boxes and Goldfish. It’s harder to come to their rescue or find something that physically demonstrates your love. I had this important opportunity and I seized it. I couldn’t think of a better way to convey how much I loved being their mom, than showing them that their needs were more important than an imposed day of adulation.

So this Mother’s Day I will be in my clean car doing what I do best, car pooling my kids to activities that they are passionate about. And I couldn’t be happier about the whole thing.

Happy Mother’s Day, because the secret is that it is truly a day of mutual admiration, a little for me and my whole heart full for them.

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The Obtuse Magic of the Right Fielder

Okay. We have all been there. Our six and seven year olds are  either good athletes or they are more like blind botanists pulling weeds from the grass than they are a ballplayer. A child who would gladly volunteer his “cup” to provide water to the flowers he is collecting rather than whatever that uncomfortable thing it is doing anyway. Every team has one . And I can’t speak to to the collective history of the right fielder, whether they start loving sports and move to the infield, go up in the batting order, or in our case, just became more proficient at picking flowers, bugs, dirt, anything that wasn’t a baseball.

What to do? For a while they made him goalie on the soccer team, not because of skill, but because he didn’t like to run.

Those games were PAINFUL to watch. Not because we were embarassed (or not only because we were embarrassed) but because he looked so unhappy.

Most of my best mothering is reactive, I mean in hindsight. This son didn’t have the words to give me a two hour discourse on why he prefer being on a stage. I don’t think he could have articulated what would have made him happy because he hadn’t experienced it yet.

So I had a problem. I had two younger kids who loved sports and one child who mildly acquiesced to them but showed to real interest.

What’s a mother to do? It wasn’t a skill problem. My son didn’t care about getting better and beside, how good do you have to be at six? But it was effecting him adversely, no one wanted to pick him for teams, it was torture to see his little face so unhappy on a beautiful day beneath baby blue skies.

And that’s when I turned into Detective Perot. I started watching him, not merely making sure he brushed his teeth, got dressed, changed underwear but really started noticing what made him smile.

The answer arrived in Kindergarten. With outfits more elaborate than some seen on Broadway, our kindergarten curriculum put on a lot of shows. He wasn’t subtle. He was the kid standing a foot closer to the audience even thought they were supposed to be in straight lines. He was the kid who knew all the words to the song as well as the hand movements, and probably the composer too. And you could hear his voice soaring over 29 other kids because he had been told that singing loudly was synonymous with singing well.

I sat back in absolute wonder. He was an artist. A performer. He wasn’t not interested in sports, he was extremely interested in the arts.

From that point on life got better. Not just for him, although he bloomed a little bit bigger with every program we found, but for us. To have this child be driven by something foreign to his parents turned into one of family’s best blessings.

Because of him, we have been to Broadway, because of him, his middle brother who hurt his back is in school plays, because of him we have the most eclectic, wonderful musical library the world could imagine. And as he got confident in these little ways, he became more confident in big ways. Acting is communication and it is hardly any surprise now that he is a gifted writer. And that confidence of knowing who you are and becoming better and better at it is a gift he gives himself and us everyday.

So be careful if you have a Right Fielder, he might be the next great thing!

What My Children Have Taught Me…

I am not done parenting, but I am moving further along on the parenting food chain. Past diapers, past play groups, and past picture books. I now have three boys in high school. These are the some of the things my children have taught me.

1. Parenthood is not ownership.

Sure, we feed them,clothe them and provide them with a safe and hopefully nurturing place to sleep, but we don’t own them. This isn’t as self evident as it sounds. At first they were so dependent on us, how could that not mean that their life’s goal would be to continue making us happy? It isn’t. Even from the beginning, when they woke us from sound sleep, when their diaper exploded over our best outfit, when a public tantrum made you think you would die, even then they were asserting their little spirits and warning us that parenthood is not about pleasure as much it is about the privilege of demonstrating what it is to be a family, what it is to love.

2. Because of number two, they won’t always agree with us.

And sometimes that hurts. But their role was never to please us as much as it was to define who they are. If we are lucky and they are thinking at all, we should celebrate their independence, they will need it to make it in this difficult and confusing world. Our feelings aren’t always that important if you gage it against the nurturing of a totally unique and independent person. Sometimes support and interest is what they need instead of a dogmatic, diatribe on what our thoughts are on a subject. They probably know anyway. Thus all the eye rolling.

3. We can’t fix everything.

That’s just true. This is tricky too. In the beginning we could fix it all. A fussy kid equaled a nap. Crying? How about some food? Not sharing? I’m all over that. But eventually they start to move out of our jurisdiction. They move into the big world that exists outside of your house. They try out for things, they run for school office, they get hurt or sick or disappointed. And there is nothing we can do but support them. Support, not fix. Listen to them, wipe up their tears, give a hug, let them know that we know they will survive. That lesson is golden. I wish I had known that earlier in my mothering career. All of us would have been a lot more relaxed about things.

4. They are spectacular.

They are. If we can stand back and allow them the space to become themselves we will be in awe. They are sweet, and kind, and surprising unique individuals.

5. Love.

I’m not sure there is anything that rivals of the love you feel for a child. Unconditional, unfailing, unrelenting love. It is independent of their actions, independent of their achievements, independent of everything except that they are yours. And that is why on even a bad day, I am happy. Because my heart has been opened in ways that I never could have imagined.

The Bullying Crisis?

I love the WSJ.  Today Nick Gillespie questions whether bullying is a real crisis or whether a few horrific incidents have sensasionalized us into an angry hive of helicopter parents who are turning to ineffective legislature to solve a problem that doesn’t merit such pervasive measures.

Bullying is a fascinating, multifaceted issue.  For one it’s older than the dirt an old fashioned bully used to throw at his weaker, scrawnier victims.  But hatred, bigotry, and ignorance are are even older than that.  Sadly, the helical structure of human DNA seems to hold a code for nastiness, and when that’s matched with the right environmental factors, there is potential for pure unmitigated evil.

You can’t legislate the humanness out of human nature.  Death penalties and life sentences don’t stop murders from murdering, thieves from thieving and rapists from raping.  I have to think that children would be even less effected by a bunch of distant, far away laws.  I kind of agree with Mr. Gillespie that more laws may not be the best solution for this problem.

And yet, does the realization that we live in a flawed world make us helpless?  Are we supposed to passively watch as the most vulnerable of our children get teased, and tortured?  No.  Of course not.

There is an answer but the answer makes me so frustrated I have to take my fingers off the keyboard and manually unclench my jaw.

We should be a nation where prevention matters, but instead we have become a country of reactionists.  We have become too lazy, and too inattentive to do the thankless hard work of rolling up our sleeves and preventing inevitable catastrophes.  Doubt this?  Don’t.  One of the reasons our economy folded was it was easier to borrow money from the bank than it was to live within our means.  Childhood obesity is on the rise?  How many families do you see jogging or filling their carts with fruits and vegetables?  Yes these problems are complicated, but we made them even more complicated by catching them too late.  By reacting instead of preventing them.  Bullying feels like more of the same to me.

Why do we want to become a nation that passes laws instead of morals to our children?

The reason is easy.  Prevention is harder.  We would actually have to do the work of modeling kindness if we expect the same from our children.  We would have to teach them that communication matters.  Not some of the time, all of the time, and whether that communication was a “joke,” a text, a Facebook post, or a simple word, communication always communicates something.  We would have to care about how they used social media, and we would have to set rules and boundaries for them the same way we teach them to drive.  An engine is an engine, whether it’s in a car or a computer.   Parent’s have to keep their kids from being reckless drivers.

What if we put as much time into teaching kindness as we did into punishing bullies?  Wouldn’t the classroom be a nicer place?  Wouldn’t the world be a better place?  Isn’t it better to teach respect than to legislate against meaness?  What if every household in America had a no hate policy? What if respect was as important as a math problem or an essay?

Ah.  A girl can dream, can’t she?

What Is It We’re Actually Addicted To?

I have three teenage boys.  This topic isn’t casually interesting, it keeps me up at night.

This blog was inspired by Paul Carr’s thought provoking article on his own decision to stop drinking.  The article appeared in the WSJ on, of all days, boozy, slurry St. Patrick’s Day.  It is a wonderful piece, where he honestly describes how he came to recognize himself as an alcoholic, (like Crayola crayons, there is more than one color of alcoholism) and his brutally self effacing steps to overcoming this addiction.  He is not a mother though, and I found the article strangely lacking. It left me a tad unfulfilled, as if I had gorged at   McDonald’s when I had wanted to eat at Tavern On The Green.

Confession.  I”m not just a mother, to three boys and three dogs, I also have practiced Internal Medicine.  I treated addiction, both poverty stricken patients who seemed to have been born with no chance to succeed, and the incredibly successful patients who had everything to loose.  And although yes, addiction is a multifactorial gumbo of genetics, environment and the X factor, there is something that runs through every addictive behavior that is so similar, that addicts start to look a little like conjoined twins.

Avoidance.

There I said it.  Users avoid their lives in the gauzy haze of whatever they are imbibing, shooting up or popping.  Avoidance scares me more than DWI’s and HIV, not because it’s more important than these atrocities, but because I believe avoidance is how many people come to drugs and then stay on them even after the physical dependence is addressed.  And I’m not talking about the avoidance of their addiction here.  No, I’m talking about their desire to avoid anything that is slightly unpleasant in their lives.

No one wants to admit that life is hard, that there are days that absolutely, undeniably suck.  We are especially loathe to share this little tidbit with our children and we are often remiss to even acknowledge it to our ourselves.  It is way easier to infuse our brain with drugs when things are difficult, than it is to infuse our soul with perseverance.

I don’t think avoidance was invented with the birth of the remote, On Demand TV, or the internet, but I can’t help but thinking that our passive, physical selves are rolling into interior lives that are filled with even more lassitude.  Don’t like something?  Click.  Someone has a different opinion than you, Unfriend them.

But life is not a series of thumbs up and thumbs downs.  It’s the whole hand.  A fist, a mother’s touch, a handshake, a caress, an obscene gesture.  Life is everything.  But not if we are choosing, or learning, or unconsciously teaching our children to avoid things when they are unpleasant.

So when I lock my van doors and make my children listen to what I think about addiction, I tell them this.  The problem with addiction is that sometimes it will feel easier to avoid life than to live it, but avoidance is NEVER,  EVER, a better way to live.  LIfe isn’t easy, and sometimes it hurts, but avoidance isn’t the answer.  Pain, boredom, jealousy aren’t our enemies.  Our enemy is being too numb to get off the floor, to deal with our pain and to keep choosing to be our best selves.