Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Am I lacking in Maternal Feeling?

I'm noticing a phenomenon, of late, that has me questioning my own maternal instincts. All around me, I'm seeing parents who, facing the impending departure of their young adult children, are emotionally wrecked. More than sentimental, they seem devastated by loss, finding it difficult to face the reality of a child departing for college or "the real world". I even read an extremely touching piece by Rob Lowe once, detailing his own inner turmoil over taking his son to college.

Don't get me wrong, I really do find this all very touching. It's just that I'm unable to relate. This makes me wonder if I'm somehow doing the mothering thing all wrong.

So far, in my maternal career, I've launched two adults into the world. My Oldest went off to college, living with his dad for the first couple of years, before going off on his own. My Middle Child, headstrong from birth, got her own apartment when she turned 18, five years ago. During neither of those transitions did I feel any great sense of loss or upheaval. Does this make me an unfeeling mother? Is my heart, like the Grinch's, two sizes too small?

To be fair, both of those transitions were sort of tucked into much larger times of turmoil. When Oldest graduated high school, his girlfriend of four years broke up with him, which led to his first major heartbreak. We all grieved along with him, partly because we'd accepted the girl into our family and our hearts, and partly because his grief was so all consuming that we couldn't help but share it. At the same time, there was a lot going on in my extended family. My little brother got married at the beginning of that summer, the second of siblings to do so in a six month period. My father remarried at the end of the summer, which was an emotional upheaval all its own. Immediately following that wedding, our entire family was devastated by the loss of my uncle, a much-loved man in the prime of his life. With all of that going on, Oldest sort of quietly headed off to his dad's house, and off to college. I cleaned out his room and created the first guest room of my adult life.

When MC left us, it seemed like the culmination of a job completed. We'd home schooled for the last two years of high school, and that was grueling, to say the least. Additionally, we'd spent those two years living in a strange (to us) town, and MC traveled the four hours between our house and her dad's often, sometimes in a parental vehicle, sometimes on the bus. We moved back to our home state right after she graduated, and were careful to keep her belongings separate from the rest of the family's because we knew she'd be moving out.

At one point, MC questioned my lack of sentimentality over her impending departure. I told her I wasn't going to cry when she left, any more than I cry when the toothpick comes cleanly out of the banana bread. To me, parenthood is a project, and the goal of the project is to send adults out into the world. Check!

Maybe that's the key? Sure, I'm still involved with my kids, I'm still holding my breath to see how it's all going to turn out, but going back to the banana bread analogy, I'm always holding my breath when we cut into the bread, too. Is it done in the middle? Burned on the bottom? Does it taste the way it should? There's nothing more I can do to fundamentally change the bread at that point. I can stick a partially cooked slice in the toaster, I can slap some butter on it if it's dry, but basically, it is whatever it is when I take it out of the oven. So, too, are my children. I can help them, I can offer them support, but once they're out on their own, their mistakes, as well as their successes, are their own. I'm a bystander now, albeit an interested one. And the thing is, I think I'm ok with that. It seems like the natural order of things.

Am I blasé because I'm unfeeling? I don't think so. I love my kids with my whole heart and soul. They're always in my thoughts, always on my heart, always in my prayers. Is it because I still have a little one at home? I don't know. Maybe it makes it easier because my nest isn't empty. I know other parents with littles and bigs, though, who are still suffering.

Is it because of my divorce? That may be a big part of it. Throughout their childhood, I had to share my big kids, as they went back and forth between my house and their dad's. I will admit, it used to rip my heart out of my chest. Intellectually, I looked forward to having some down time, some time alone to accomplish things that were hard to do with two little ones in tow. Emotionally, though, it was an entirely different matter. The minute they were gone I felt lost, as though someone had taken some part of me for the weekend. In the beginning, I'd cry. As time went on, I got tougher. So maybe by this time, I'm just tough. Maybe my heart has grown callouses over the tender spots that used to ache from the absence of my children. Maybe when Small One leaves for college, after a childhood of staying with me every weekend, I'll feel afresh that pain of separation.

I really think, though, that I just look at parenting differently. It's a big part of my life, but it's not my whole life. Even now, while Small is small, and still needs me every day, I'm doing my own thing when she's not here. I'm 100% invested in the career of motherhood, but I understand that it's not permanent, and I'm working on myself and my interests, knowing that as she needs me less, I'll be able to pursue other interests more. In many ways, my career is just beginning. By the time Small leaves me, I hope to be successful enough in other endeavors to avoid being at a loss as to how to spend my time and energy.

That's the hope. Of course, I should also mention that if you call my Small a tween I will punch you in the throat. Yes, I'm well aware she's almost 11, and painfully cognizant of the fact that middle school is a mere school year away. But this is a kid who still wears ruffle socks when left to her own devices, and who routinely holds my hand in public. She's older, but she's not yet old. I will admit, the first day of the last year of elementary school gave me a pang. Because the distance between second grade and fifth grade looks like this:

And that makes me a little misty. So it's possible I'm not quite the Grinch I thought I was.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Long Time Passing

Where does the time go? It's been more than three years since I gave this little blog any love. Of course, that's just because I've been so busy with all the bon-bon eating and lazing about.Ha! It's actually because, along with all the Creature wrangling, I've been doing a ton of writing professionally, which leaves me very little time to think about my own blog.

Small One is not so small anymore. In fact, sometimes I look at her and am completely shocked by how old she looks! She's only got one more year in elementary school, and that makes me extremely mushy. My older two are solidly in their 20s, which makes me a much less integral part of their adventures.

Don't think that means I don't get my quota of little kid action these days. My closest cousin and oldest friend has been blessed, unexpectedly, with a little girl who is now almost four years old, and I play nanny to her twice a week. Since this child is more of a whirlwind than my Small was, she definitely keeps me hopping! For the purposes of this blog, we'll call her Squirrel. (What else do you call a small thing with a penchant for climbing and a constant stream of chatter?) She's not mine, but she and the Small One act like sisters, which is nice.

Anyway, the point is, I'd sort of like to kick this blog back into gear. I'm not promising a daily post or anything, but I do think I'll pop in from time to time and tell you all a thing or two. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Actual Name

This may not seem like a big deal to anyone, but it's sort of a big deal to me. In my professional life, I constantly write blog posts, on a range of topics that's broad enough to include spinal stenosis, gardening tips, entertaining ideas, and bathroom tile grout. I do this for company websites, to help them promote their businesses, and I really like the work. I do not, however, get credit for it. That's ok, it's just the nature of the job; I'm essentially a ghost writer.

Not today, though! Today, I'm actually published. In my actual name, with my actual photo underneath the article. Just an article in an online magazine, but hey! I'm pretty excited. Anyway, without further ado:


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Me, as My Own Guest Blogger

I wanted to share this post today, originally written in the summer of 2009, when Small was not quite 3, MC was a feisty almost 15 year old, and my Oldest had just graduated from high school. It seems like just a minute ago, yet my oldest two have left the nest, and will be 20 and 24 this year, and my littlest is getting dangerously close to being a "big kid", and will turn 8 in the fall.  Maybe I'm feeling sentimental because my hormones are in an uproar. (I'm having PMS of above average intensity this month, which is to say that I'd really enjoy a raw steak for nearly every meal, with a side of chocolate covered butter, if possible.) Anyway, this may also be making me a little more sentimental than usual, but I don't think my nostalgia is the only reason this post resonates with me. Whatever the reason, I wanted to share it again.


Cherries and Childhood

The last day at the mountain house, we sit on the back porch, the Small One and I, and eat cherries. The sun is low on the mountains, and it’s the time of day when the world seems benevolent and warm. I bite the cherries in half, being careful to take the seed in my half, so I can give her a seedless chunk. She’s impatient for more, but I relish the time, watching the cherry stains spread across her face and fingers.

I suddenly have the thought that this is the way I want parenting to be, but it rarely is- I always want to hand them pieces of life from which I’ve stripped the obstacles and rotten parts, and watch them enjoy themselves. The cherries I bite are sometimes not sweet, and when they’re not I throw them off the deck, so she only gets the choicest pieces. I tell her we’re throwing away the yucky cherries, and she looks at me with her trusting, not quite three year old face, and nods agreement. “We don’t like yucky cherries,” she says, “because they’re not so yummy.”

Looking into the serious eyes above the cherry stains, I have a flash of the years to come. I’m all too familiar with the difficulties ahead, having raised two other children almost to adulthood, and I want to hold her right where she is, while she still trusts me completely and loves me without reservation. I want to sit with her and listen to her say that she loves cherries because they’re red, and red is her favorite color. I want to know her favorite color. I don’t want to fight with her about tattoos and piercing and curfews, I don’t want her to assume I’m setting rules because I hate her, I don’t want to look into her face and see a hostile stranger.

I’m thinking this as she hops off her rocking chair and stubs her toe. She yelps, and I hand her a cherry half. She examines it for a minute, then looks at me and brightens up. “Thank you, Mom,” she says, “that will make me feel better.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

O Da Wo Da Wit Da Weeus

My family intentionally misquotes a certain line from a Robert Burns poem. The poem is called "To a Louse", and the line is:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us! 

My family says it this way:

O da wo da wit da weeus
See ourselves as others see us.

(Or, abbreviated, it just becomes the first line.) The line, of course, speaks to the unwise nature of putting on airs, and references a girl who is completely unaware that there's a louse on her fancy bonnet. Whenever we notice someone being obtusely lacking in self awareness, we shake our heads and tut. "O da wo da wit da weeus."

Of course, it makes me wonder, how often is that person me? I think of myself as self aware, but in my experience, most people seem to think that of themselves, and many are mistaken. There are zillions of versions of the "how I think I look/ how I really look" meme. 

I'm thinking about this today because an acquaintance of mine posted an article on social media last night that she considers representative of her personality. I was astonished. It didn't even come close to how I perceive her, and even when I tried tipping my head sideways and squinting, I still couldn't see it.

I think this goes along with what I've been thinking about lately, with classifications, labels, and the boxes in which we put ourselves and others. Maybe part of it stems from a need to belong to a group, and maybe it's a desire to be more that we are. If I say I'm a Tiger Mom, when clearly I am not, does that speak to my yen to push my children into higher achievement? Is it a case of "fake it til you make it", or pure pretension? And anyway, where is the line between those two?

Here's what I think. Young adults tend to say "I'm an adult." Elementary kids declare, "I'm a big kid!". In the same way, insecure moms feel the need to stand on a figurative chair and announce their mom philosophy to whomever might be interested. Most of the time, when a person feels the need to have everyone affirm whatever it is he or she believes about him or herself, it's because they don't truly believe it in the first place. 

Not that I'm throwing stones. I often feel like I'm on the verge of being discovered as a phony. Doesn't everyone? In a way, we all put on a persona every time we leave the house, don't we? I'm a pretty transparent person on the whole, but there's still that moment of panic when I'm asked to explain my point of view, or stretch my professional abilities, or meet a new person.

Aside from opening oneself up to sometimes brutal criticism, how does one go about seeing what others see? I find myself asking those to whom I'm close: "Do I do that? Do I come across like that? Would you tell me if I did that?"

What about you? Does it matter to you how others see you? Do you know whether your own self image is accurate? Do you care?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Which Vert are You?

Introvert, extrovert...these terms get thrown around all the time, and I sometimes wonder about them. They are often described in such clear cut terms, but I think most people aren't one or the other, but rather a mixture. My husband is introverted, for sure, unless he's in a group where he feels he has something worthwhile to contribute and then, whoa, look out. This is the Man who often goes into the other room to read a book during a party, because he just can't be involved any more, and who literally never seeks out the companionship of friends. Yet give him a neighborhood pool next to his house, and he's Mr. Friendlypants. (Just add water?) Give him the opportunity to expound upon a topic during a class, and he's an orator. Not that he'll necessarily speak to any of the people in the class afterward, but man, he's on fire when he's sharing his knowledge.

Small is a similar creature, in many regards. As I mentioned before, she eschews group activities, and prefers to spend time playing alone, setting up elaborate games, for hours. On the other hand, she's extremely friendly and talkative, always ready to reach out to someone if she thinks that person needs a friend.

Does that make her an introvert or an extrovert?

What about me? When I was a child, my mom had to pry me away from my books and make me go play with the neighborhood kids. On the other hand, I was a total blabbermouth who loved being in dance recitals and school plays, concert choir and flag corps. As a grown up, I spent years in the marketing field, constantly glad-handing and schmoozing. Now, I work from home, and see people pretty rarely. Sometimes this bothers me, most of the time it doesn't. I have days when my only communication with other people, aside from Small One and the Man, is online. That's ok with me. On the other hand, I'm often delighted to have a marathon phone call with a friend or my sister or mom. I talk to complete strangers. I seek out lunch dates with friends. I volunteer for things. I tell good stories, and I'm great at making small talk, when the occasion calls for it. I used to really love singing and acting in front of people. On the other hand, if I'm cracking a joke in a group, it's typically to the person next to me, under my breath. If someone asks me to repeat a funny story in front of a group, I feel like my face is on fire. Don't get me wrong, I tell the story, and I would guess that no one else knows that I'm embarrassed, but I am. I love the idea of a party with good friends, but I always almost chicken out before we go. I very much dislike social events where I'm not going to know people.

Does that make me an extrovert or an introvert? I think maybe I'm an ambivert.

This raises another question for me, though. Why do I care? Why do any of us care? Why do we have a need to be classified, and to classify others? My only guess is that it's part of our need for order- everyone needs to be in the appropriate box.Maybe we also feel that if we can classify ourselves, we can truly know ourselves, and by truly understanding ourselves we can be the best, most successful versions of ourselves.

Readers, what do you think? Is the introvert/extrovert distinction clear to you? And why does it matter?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Weird Kid

As you've probably gathered by now, I think Small One is pretty spectacular. Smart, funny, and charming, she's also pretty easygoing and well-mannered. School is a breeze for her, because she is also a rules follower, which makes her easy for her teachers to manage. She's also a pretty entertaining student- in fact, most adults find her a really enjoyable child. Recently, however, she's had a complaint about school, and it has to do with her interaction with her peers. She's begun referring to herself as "the weird kid".

She can't explain this to me, she doesn't know why she doesn't feel like she fits in, she just knows she feels like a misfit. I totally "get" this, as I've felt this way most of my life, and I remember feeling completely out of place in elementary school. When I look at her objectively, I can identify these particular items that might set her apart from her fellow first graders:
  • She's a stand up comedian. For the second year in a row, she's picked comedy as her talent show act, asking her father to participate. She's been extremely instrumental in the writing of their material: we help her, but she is a really active participant in the process, vetoing certain lines and making up her own jokes as we go along. When she auditioned this year, the judges expressed amazement at her ability to memorize such a long piece, and I wanted to tell them that it wasn't such a big deal, as she'd single-handedly written about half of it. 
  • She has wanted to be a movie director since she was about three years old. Even before she understood the term "director" she's known that she did not want to be a person in the movies, but rather a person making the movies. To that end, she spends hours constructing elaborate "movies"...this is to say, she sets up all her toy animals in different scenes, creating various scenarios for them to enact. Her "movies" have titles like "Duckland" and "Pink Poodle Land". Unfortunately, her storytelling skills are not yet honed, and when she tries to retell these tales, they are the longest, most rambling epic tales of toy animals that I have ever attempted to hear. So when she comes home from school and tells me that no one will let her tell them about Duckland, I have to say that I fully come down on the side of the other kids. 
  • She is the bossiest of all the bossypants. No joke. Perhaps because she is a pseudo-only child, with siblings who both left the house before she was 6, she has a bit of the Red Queen in her; this is to say that all ways are her ways, according to her. I suspect this leads to difficulty in making friends. It also probably does not endear her to her classmates that she tends to apologize to her teacher for their behavior, if they are not falling into line the way she thinks they should.
  • She speaks like an adult. Adults find this pretty hilarious, especially since she is small for her age, but I think it adds to her weird kid reputation among her peers. Here's an example of the way she expresses herself: riding Space Mountain, she was terrified.Was she crying? Nope.

    She was yelling "I wish I hadn't agreed to this!"
  • She prefers animals to people. This, I think, probably also adds to her weird kid reputation. She doesn't play with dolls, she plays with toy animals. At Disney, she cared nothing for meeting the princesses, but stood in line to have her picture taken with an Aristocat. Given a choice between playing with the neighbor girls or playing in the back yard with the dogs, she'll often pick the dogs. I don't know why this is, but I will wager it adds to the label.
  • She's not a joiner. I remember a birthday party for a friend a couple of years ago, with a superhero theme. The grandmother of the birthday girl had made capes for all the kids, and there was a party person there, tasked with leading all of them in fun activities that had them zooming all around the house and yard. Except Small- she was not involved in any of it. She still has the cape, she zooms around our yard in it: solo. When it was time to participate, she wasn't having it. This goes for singalongs, dance parties, audience participation, and so on. For another Disney example: we went to an audience-participation heavy Beauty and the Beast attraction. She had no interest in any of it, including the part where little girls went up to have their pictures taken with Belle...until she realized they were offering bookmarks. She still didn't meet Belle, but she waited until after the show and requested a bookmark anyway.

The bottom line is this: I wish I knew how to help, but I don't. I've tried to tell her that one day she'll meet "her people", and it will all feel better. I've discussed the situation with my older kids, and the consensus is, as MC so eloquently put it, I "only know how to raise weird kids". She may have a point. Sometime soon, she'll move into gifted classes at her school, where I hope she'll meet other kids just as "weird" as she is. Right now, being socially awkward makes her want to stop going to school and be home-schooled. I don't think that's a good enough reason to home school.

So how about you, readers? Are you raising weird kids, or are yours perfectly normal? Is there such a thing as perfectly normal? Does anyone not feel socially awkward in grade school?