Being a Mom without a Mom.

You can’t compare the grief of two people.  You can’t measure sorrow.  The list of ways it could be worse is endless.  There is war and famine, there are parents holding dying children as I type this digital missive and others alone, lost in a world without love.  These are the tragedies that flood my thoughts when I suddenly realize that I’ve spent the whole day with a catch in my throat.  All day with eyes aching to unleash tears because, for some reason or other, this day of all days, I can’t shake the sadness of missing my mom.

My mind seems to jump to this parade of horribles in an effort to put my feelings in check–as if to ask, “how dare you be sad when there are so many others who are really sad right now?”  It never helps.  It only loosens the levee.

I lost my mom a few years ago.  Her absence is palpable and touches virtually every aspect of my life–though none more than my experience as a parent.   She was here for the first couple years of my oldest daughter’s life.  She saw two more granddaughters arrive after that, then left us as those girls were about to turn 1. She imparted tremendous parenting wisdom to my sister and me in those short years she was here as a grandparent, and even more in the years before.  But it wasn’t enough.  The parenting questions I still have to ask and mommy confessions I have to make…to her, only her, are innumerable.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve got plenty of people in my parenting village. People who love me and my kids and whose advice and help I rely upon.  It does, in fact, take a village and my village rocks…it’s just that sometimes it feels like I’ve got a DJ and not the live band at this party.  [No offense to DJs.]  I can listen to the records and maybe even dance to the covers played by other talented musicians, but my favorite, original artist is gone.

I’m sorry to be a downer. I’m afraid I just don’t have a quippy, feel good conclusion to this post in me.  There’s only a rankled refrain on my soundtrack today:  Being a mom without a mom sucks.

[I’ll be right back.  I need some ice cream…]

[Ok. I’m back.]

Yes, I know it could be worse.  But I don’t have to measure my sorrow to give myself permission to feel it.  She told me this once a long time ago.

For those of you reading this, and thinking that your grief, your situation, is worse. You are absolutely right–because it is yours.  Go ahead, cry about it.  I’ll cry with you.  And then we can count the reasons we have to be happy together.  Those are the things worth measuring.

[This mint-chip coated conclusion is brought to you by Häagen-Dazs…and my mommy’s wisdom.]

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600.8 Miles from Home

We were outside.  Really outside, a long way from home.  In a state park, carrying fishing poles, hiking through the rain and meeting wildlife sometimes too closely.   I was repeating “stop,” “slow down,” “hold my hand” and “be careful” like a broken Gregorian chant record, if the monks were chanting warnings of physical dangers rather than spiritual.  We were soaking wet, and I was emotionally on edge from trying to keep three kids under 6 from meeting a river-swept end and arguing with my husband who had forgotten to pack the rain gear. [I made the list, he executed on it…he swore I didn’t include those items on the list. I swore too and hoped the sound of the raging waters muted the swear words before they reached my kids’ ears.]  A thought clung to me as tightly as my soggy, not-at-all-suited-for-this-adventure Anthropologie top: I’m an ass…and not just because of my clothing choice for today.  This dirty, sodden, spider-filled day was probably the best day of my kids’ lives so far because it was wild.  It was a real-life, wild adventure and I, and my grown-up ill-packed baggage, needed to get out of the way.

I needed to stop letting my frustrations and fears interfere with their adventure.  I needed to shut up and let them explore.

But my half-Catholic, half-Jewish brain was stuck in a death spiral of worry and guilt, and concern over our lack of sufficient snacks.  Would they get sick from being so cold and wet? Would they slip/fall/drown/be bitten by a brown recluse or rattlesnake or black bear or West Nile-carrying mosquito or Lymey tick?  Would their confidence be shaken if they couldn’t make it to the top of those daunting rocks or catch a fish?   Would the ice cream truck in the parking lot at the end of today’s adventure have mint chip? [Okay, that one was more about me than them.]  Just name anything that could make their little, sweet faces crumple into tears, and I was worried about it.

I knew that most of those worries were nonsense.  Sure, some were valid (especially the snake thing), but not a single one of them warranted my compulsion to pick them all up and run.  So I stopped.  I stood back…a bit. And I let them run wild.

I told myself what most of us already know.  Kids need to get dirty.  They need to be scared once in a while.  They need to fail.  And we need to let them.

So 600.8 miles from home, over the course of a week spent where Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania meet, my kids got very dirty.  They were scared riding horses for the first time and frightened by the sounds and sheer size of the nature around us.  They failed to catch a fish…and didn’t care one bit.  They had a blast.

The long drive home was filled with talk of what they will do next year when we return to meet Grammy and Granddad at the house in the woods.  My 6 year old made a list.  They will go on long trail hikes, eat ice cream every day, ride really big horses and go fishing again, maybe this time from a boat.  And they will remind their parents to bring the rain gear.

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I Won’t Say a Thing About Your Parenting. I Promise.

2014 fireworks

I didn’t let my kids hold sparklers on the 4th.  But I did let eat them eat grapes…uncut ones. Popcorn too, they regularly eat those crunchy little choking hazards with very little supervision.  There are other things I let them do that other parents scoff at.

  • I let them watch cartoons and drink chocolate milk with breakfast.
  • My six-year old wears shoes with a one-inch heel on special occasions (despite the fact that she’s already about a foot taller than her peers…but who am I to height-shame her?).
  • They all slept with me (well, on me) for the first couple months of their lives.

The list goes on.  There are so many things I did and do that other parents and non-parents think are terrible.  There are also lots of things that other parents let their kids do that mine do not get to enjoy.  There are those hotter-than-the-sun-flame-popsicles affectionately referred to as sparklers, for one.  I’ve also convinced them that they are allergic to soda and that Disney World is not real–it’s only something other kids talk about when they want to make their friends jealous.   But guess what? They’re my kids, and my husband and I know what we’re doing.

Still, that doesn’t stop the parenting police.  It didn’t stop the woman one non-flame-retardant blanket over on the beach from trying to convince me IN FRONT OF MY KIDS that the sparklers are fine, I’m being over-protective and I should just let them hold them.  It doesn’t stop the sleep training specialists, EBF evangelists (that’s exclusively breast fed for the uninitiated), the “I may not be a doctor, but I’ve read some internet articles about vaccines” peeps or the uppity “babies don’t belong in bars” folks from shouting “You are doing this wrong!” on otherwise-friendly social media platforms and in grocery stores, parks and local watering holes.

So let’s make a deal, all of us parents and non-parents alike.  Unless we’re talking about a kid alone in a hot car or some other immediately life-threatening behavior, let’s keep the unsolicited personal parenting advice to a minimum.  I don’t mind a Facebook post, every now and then, that attempts to debunk (or perpetuate) some myth about nutrition, the causes of autism or the safety of household cleaning products.  For the most part, that’s a well-intentioned attempt at a generic public service announcement–one we can all take or leave, without feeling like we’ve been slapped in the face while sitting in a quiet corner of a bar, nursing a single, delicious midday beer as our baby sleeps soundly in her carrier nearby.  But the personal messages directed at people who are not your friends and/or have not asked for your opinion, the other mom in the park who just can’t help but tell me that the slide is too high for my 2 year old, the lady pushing fire into the until-now-unmarred-by-flame hands of my 6 and 4 year olds…those can stop.

I know how to parent my kids.  At least I think I do.  And we all know that confidence is half the parenting battle, so please don’t undermine mine and I promise, from this day forward, not to undermine yours.  Really.  Your kids can breastfeed until their 5th birthday before moving to an all orange soda diet, as far as I’m concerned.  I won’t say a word (to your face).  I promise.  This parenting thing is hard enough without comments from the peanut-free gallery.

Flags, Ketchup and Dinosaurs.

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”  -Ronald Reagan.

We were at the table talking about food and how delicious the zucchini sitting on our plates smelled, when my 4 year old announced with all the force of an Executive Order that she would, from this day forward, only eat foods that were white (sugar, bread, ice cream, the inside of chicken nuggets after the brown is scraped off and mozzarella cheese) and sometimes red (strawberries, watermelon, ketchup and pizza sauce).

The 6 year old told her she should have one more color, to make it look more like the flag.  Blue! Blue would be good, so she should add blueberries to her diet.  The 4 year old agreed with her big sister, “Yes, so my plate looks just like the French flag.”  Here’s how the rest of that convo went:

6: “I meant the American flag.”

4: “Oh, okay.  [Good-natured, chuckle.] Good thing they are both red, white and blue.”

6: “Hmm. That’s strange.  [Picks up fork, then puts it down.] Wait a minute!  The England flag is red, white and blue too.”

4: [Hasn’t touched her fork in 15 minutes.] “I know why they all use the same colors.  It’s because they only had those colors back then.”

6: “I think you’re right.  In olden times they only had primary colors and didn’t know how to mix them yet.”

4: “Yup. [Finally chewing…something white.] Wait.  Then how come the dinosaurs were so many different colors?”

6: “That’s easy.  Because they were extinct before there were people and when they were dead their bones were just white, so the people didn’t get to learn from the dinosaurs that there were so many different colors.”

4: [Pushes forkful of zucchini I’m holding away from her face.] “That’s too bad.  People could have learned a lot from dinosaurs.”

Me: “Yes, they could have learned to eat green things.”

4: “Don’t be silly, mama.  And, I don’t need green to eat vegetables.  I like ketchup.”

Me: “Reagan isn’t the President anymore to the great sorrow of many, including, apparently, you Miss Sassy. [Confused stares looking back at me, so I change direction.] Well look at that. While we were busy discussing flag colors and extinction, your little brother ate all his zucchini.”

4: “That’s because he’s too little to know what tastes good.”

6: “Hey! I like zucchini too!” [Fork dropped. Hands on hips.]

4: “Well, you’re too BIG to know what tastes good!”

6: [Hands still on hips, chest now puffed out.] “I’m big enough to know that you can’t just eat primary colors and survive.  You need to eat all the colors…ALL of them!”

4: [Rolls eyes and sighs audibly.] “You sound like a dinosaur.”

***

We have lots of great change to anticipate in America, if for no other reason than dinner takes roughly 3 hours in our house every night.

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