Saturday, March 25, 2006

Learning curve

You raise kids and watch them go through their adolescent dance of boyfriends and girlfriends, all the time hoping that one day your son and daughter will find that significant other who will become a lifetime partner, a loving and loyal spouse. You hope beyond hope that they learn from your mistakes and benefit from your wisdom. In the end, it’s very much out of your control. So you watch and pray, from the sidelines. You learn to be patient with yourself. It takes time to learn the art of letting go.

I didn’t have a good marriage. It took me years to admit that fact and several more years to take action. As my daughter reminded, “Mom, you needed to be hit by a Mac truck.” I did and I was, figuratively speaking, during a fairy-tale setting in a foreign land. But that’s a story for another day, another time.

My report card was a lopsided split: Couplehood = D; Parenting = A. I’ve chosen to celebrate the positive rather than focus on the negative. My marriage produced two terrific kids who have grown into two amazing adults. In many ways, I’ve learned what it’s like to be in a loving relationship from watching them. They chose well.

I fell in love with my daughter-in-law from the moment she stepped into my life, coming home with the son on a college break. Through the ups and downs of college romance, I secretly hoped that she would one day be “the one”. Eventually, my hope turned into reality. Katie is a sunny blonde who knows how to tease my sometimes serious son; she keeps him honest and she’s certainly not afraid to share her opinion. She is also not afraid to do her fair share of the labor, in and outside the home. My son keeps his end of the bargain too, providing security and love to his growing family. It was so gratifying to see him feeding and changing their first baby, something my own father would have been quite uncomfortable with. Men just did not do those kinds of female things a half-century ago.

I grew up thinking that father really did know best. I was a product of the sanguine ‘50s when moms wore aprons and dads provided the sole paycheck. The universe was filled with constants, no confounding variables. I knew what was expected of me and just how far I could go … dinner at 5:00pm, church on Sunday and family drive, Catholic school for twelve years. It was a safe life. Let’s say I had an extended childhood and adolescence. Oh, did I mention the only-child thing too? It wasn’t until I was married that I realized just how different families could be. That revelation produced quite a long and rather painful learning curve. Somehow though, flawed as we were as a couple, my husband and I got it right when it came to the kids. And they seem to be getting it right with their kids too.

At first, I didn’t quite know what to make of my future son-in-law. My first encounter came in the kitchen of Jenn’s Yonkers apartment. He reminded me of a flashback to the hippies of my generation – a shaggy guy in coveralls, pleasant smile and warm eyes. I, of course, was expecting someone else. Knowing that my daughter would always be a struggling artiste, I wanted to anchor her to some solid MBA grad with a pin-striped suit. Not! Thus began another learning curve for the mater - more letting go of pre-fabricated dreams which were intruding upon my daughter’s reality. David, bless him, had the good sense not to try too hard. He was quite content to be himself and let me get to know him through my daughter’s eyes. And her eyes were filled with love. I soon realized that this gentle man, this fellow artist, was the right match. I was touched to see how they cared for each other. David was a mensch. Yeah, they wouldn’t have money in the bank, but they were already rich in so many other ways. What more could a mother want.

Well, a mother could want … grandchildren. While both couples pursued and completed professional degrees, I kept hearing the daughter and daughter-in-law obsess and worry about their biological clocks and how hard it may be to get preggers. This made me laugh to myself. Mothers just know. I now have four beautiful grandkids, ages five and under, with grandbaby #5 set to make her debut on the west coast this summer. With so much love floating around, I knew they would be successful once they got on task.

I think I’ve learned how to step aside from my children’s lives, at least I hope so. In my letting them go, to make their own choices and create their own stories, I’ve begun to carve out some room for myself to let in new experiences and new stories of my own.

I still have a lot to learn.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Go inside and play

My daughter thinks I need to get a life. Well, she knows I have a life but she’s worried that it’s dull, dull, dull. So, in order to spice it up, she discovered the perfect gift for my birthday, an adult PC device. I kid you not. My intended gift is neither politically correct nor a personal computer. Instead, the Kegelcisor is everything a single woman could wish for. It’s sturdy and solid and shiny and sleek. Frankly, I’d rather have a new sports car.

My intended gift sits on display at select and discreet and not-so-discreet websites for the adult shopper. Don’t waste your time - you won’t find this puppy at Wal-Mart. But you will find it keeping company with rabbits, rock lobsters, eggs, wands and harnesses: a veritable potpourri of silicone, stainless steel, chrome, rubber and the ever popular pink Lucite (better things through chemistry). Did I mention the power supplies? Double AA and triple AAA and watch batteries along with cordless wonders and the live-on-the-edge 110v superchargers. Oops, I apologize, my intended gift is an old-fashioned manual model. I just got carried away. Aside from the Kegelcisor, my favorite item is the mini-combination flashlight-keychain-vibrator. A brilliant idea, don’t leave home without one.

It’s quite mind boggling to even consider the prospect of receiving a rock lobster or a Kegelcisor as a gift. There’s always the delicate question: If it doesn’t fit, can I take it back for a refund? According to the daughter, the answer is yes. However, since the online information reassures that you can establish the right fit by “experimenting with cucumbers”, that should hardly be necessary. I also like the way the stores support self-initiative. One goes so far as to say: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” Gosh, they are very friendly and encouraging.

I guess my daughter means well. And, heaven knows, I spent over an hour tonight checking out the many colors and models and perky accessories but none of them seemed to thrill me as much as other forms of entertainment; for instance, throwing a bowling ball down the lane and making a 7-10 split. Wow, the feeling I get from that is just so, so … let’s say it tickles my fancy. And then there’s the world of art. Hmm, turn me loose in a museum and let me gaze upon a Georgia O’Keeffe painting and, before you know it, I get this tingly sensation up and down my … and, finally, horseback riding. Sitting in the saddle on a long bumpy trail ride ranks right up there for seat-of-the-pants excitement.

So, yes, I’ll pass on the intended gift. Jenn said they couldn’t engrave my bowling nickname on it anyhow. Such a shame. “Ball buster” would look so awesome etched in stainless steel.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Go outside and play

I awakened to the usual droning newscasts this morning but one of the reports really caught my attention. It seems that there is a battle going on about the banning of recess from the school day. When I web searched the topic, I discovered this isn’t just a battle, it’s a world war. Millions of kids around the world may have one of their basic rights stripped away. I was intending to blog this as a funny piece but I’m starting to think that all these websites and protesters may have every reason to be concerned.

I grew up with a fairly simple agenda: walk to school, sit in class, learn reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, a little bit of Polish (it was a small Catholic school in a Polish-American neighborhood), go outside, run around, play hopscotch and tag, gossip with the girlfriends, giggle at the boys and sometimes fall down and scrape a knee. My parents trusted the school authorities to get it right and teach and nurse and discipline me when needed. There were boundaries and no cell phones to get in the way. I walked home and ate dinner (always at 5:00pm) and then practiced my music and did my homework. This was way before after-school activities and gym teachers. Gym activities were covered on the playground with the running and tag and climbing and jumping rope. Recess was also a lesson in civics and socialization. If you thought a kid wasn’t playing fair, you called him on it. I found out early that there was strength in numbers. Usually, the kids could work out their problems without adult interference. We needed that time in the schoolyard to learn how to connect and get along. We were too busy listening to the teacher and writing from the blackboard the rest of the day.

That was then, a half century ago, and this is now. There are car pools and suburban moms and multi-tasking and multi-schedules. Kids don’t walk to school anymore; they are driven or bussed. Many of them probably have cell phones too. The parents are working from a new paradigm. They are super invested in their kids’ daily lives, perhaps too invested. I think a lot of families are on the edge of panic. There’s no time for a sit-down dinner as mom is working full-time and has to take Johnny or Joanne to soccer practice on Monday, violin lesson on Tuesday, little league or gymnastics on Wednesday, library-enrichment night on Thursday, and sleep-over on Friday. Many kitchens have organizational flow charts on their refrigerators. God, I’m breathless just thinking about it. No wonder the kids are tuning out with MTV and computers. Stop the world, they want to get off!

You would think that all this extracurricular activity would be producing robust and healthy kids. More disturbing news: the big Macs are catching up with the younger population as much as the older. Obesity in children/adolescents is on the rise. It’s probably due to the weekends spent chilling out from all the scheduled activity after school. Kids want to vegetate in front of their PC. And I bet many have their very own computer too. Well, yes, it’s an escape hatch. And not just for kids, eh? I’m blogging right now so I’m just as guilty.

The best release to the demands of parents and teachers may just be the old-fashioned idea of recess, a brilliant concept which worked for millions of kids throughout the decades. Kids need to take a healthy break, need to feel free to just do nothing, away from their hectic, over-scheduled modern lives. Jumping rope and running around will burn up some calories and maybe balance out the sitting at the computer.

I worry that parents are micro-managing their children’s lives. And I worry that professional educators are focusing on testing and outcomes so much that their stress to make a school or school district look good is carrying over to excessive demands on their charges. Schoolbags are now being designed more ergonomically because the kids have so much homework that they must carry tons of books back and forth each day. Doctors are seeing more and more orthopedic problems in the younger generation. Maybe it’s time to separate adult needs for competition from what the kids need and “Get off their backs”.

Quite simply, kids need time to themselves. It’s in the downtime that imagination and dreams are born. Cloud gazing may lead to creative ideas and future goals. Mom and dad, stand down. Teachers do the same. Give the kids some breathing room. And, while you’re at it, take some time off yourselves. It wouldn’t be such a Prozac nation if we all remembered to play.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Buddha, phone home

You can only keep a 15-year-old kid meditating for so long. Just read in the news this morning that a Buddha wannabe has decided to take a long walk into the sunset or sunrise or another dimension. According to the locals, the mini guru has been sitting under a tree since last May and not eating or drinking. But now he’s disappeared.

The villagers are organizing search parties.

If he’s found Nirvana, the kid should be fine. Maybe he’s simply looking for a big Mac.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Tough love

I can see this cross-pollenization of mom-daughter blogs will have to be worked through. Does anyone have an operating manual handy? In the meantime, I'm going to risk this open letter to my daughter at breed 'em and weep. It's the closest I can come to a Hallmark "Get Well Soon".

Dear Daughter,

I nag because I care.

Ever since you and I were first introduced (you knocked first, remember?), I have not been able to get you out of my mind. I was quite new at this whole preggers thing and had no sisters to fill me in. My Polish-American momma and assorted cousins were wonderfully supportive but did not offer much in the way of practical advice, except for my mom’s classic adage: “Don’t worry about childbirth – they expand when they hit the air.” All this because I felt your first kick and expressed some anxiety over my ability to handle the Big Event five months later.

Well, I did handle the BE with all the strength and prayers I could muster - mostly alone in a very small cubicle with a young intern who stopped by once or twice, in between my Hail Marys, to tell me I had a very high threshold for pain. The gauntlet was thrown down with those words. I had to live up to the hype. Say one Hail Mary and call me when you’re fully dilated. Having been the good Catholic school girl, I knew not to question authority. Just offer it up for the salvation of all those pagan babies whose mommas obviously had issues of their own.

Your dad heard the same words too but elsewhere in the hospital. The culture at the time did not really support all this grand sharing of maternal pain and birthing tubs with the daddies-to-be. The mommies were expected to wing it alone with their trust and devotion in the male authority figures who dispensed the orders along with the patronizing platitudes.

Nevertheless, your birth was every bit the Big Event I had anticipated. You came, you saw, you conquered me in the first few seconds I glanced down at your tiny face. I’ve never been the same since. And I got to repeat the wondrous experience all over again with your brother! Who would have thought those Hail Marys could garner such blessings. Childbirth, the gift that keeps on giving. Four unique grandchildren, with another on the way. I’ve got a silly smile on my face as I write this. I secretly think a pagan baby must have adopted me and showered good karma in my path.

Exponentially, you did expand when you hit the air. You grew bigger and I grew with you, learned from you, laughed with you and cried with you. I may have not had all the answers and disappointed you at times. But you never disappointed me. You were my Big Event, my baby girl with the bright searching eyes.

Now look at you, happily married and a mother yourself. Nanny wasn’t so wrong after all, was she? Babies do expand … and so do hearts.

I’m worried about you, a mother’s prerogative. My heart tells me that you have probably been over-exerting yourself and there can be a hundred good reasons for the “ehh” symptoms this past week. But my head tells me that I don’t like that false-positive reading on the EKG and that maybe your bloggers are on to something. And so, I push a little. Send some emails to your brother. Say a few Hail Marys (they seemed to have served me well in the past). And get on your case!

It’s called tough love. Live with it.

Mom xxoo

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Toaster crumbs can multi-task

I have had it! Why, in this cyberspace world, do the spammers seem to be winning? Why, even with my megabytes of PC security software and firewalls and anti-spam, do the bad guys seem to find clever ways to slip in among messages from friends and family? I want to hear about Sophie's day in pre-K, not locate a Canadian pharmacy that sells Viagra!

These latest whacko subject lines must be the newest craze in sleazy advertising. Randomized words appear and I start to see red. Invasion of personal mental space.

I guess snake oil will always find a way into the marketplace.