Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category
This weekend, I had the absolute honor of spending time with two of my closest friends, their husbands, and their beautiful children. We talked, we walked, we ate (boy, did we eat), and we just relaxed in each other’s company. A lovely weekend, and one I really needed.
But it was also a very hard weekend for me in many ways. For one, I was again the single one in a group of not just couples but families, units that work together to make decisions and build a life. As much as I truly love seeing my friends with the people that give them hope and security, it is also hard to be the one still alone in that time.
Perhaps, though, the hardest thing was something I have gotten better at over the years but still find very challenging – the complexities of relating to someone else’s children. I am not a parent, and I am certainly not their parent; yet, I am an adult and not their friend either. It’s a tough position to be in – to help settle squabbles or not, to calm the legs kicking the cabinets or not, to hold a scared little boy or not. I’m never sure what my role is to be in those situations. I muddle through, but it’s a challenge.
Then, of course, there is the pain of not having my own children to muddle through with. Most days I am at peace with what seems to be a fairly solid reality, but when I spend time with kids, hear my friends talking about schools and books and the gorgeous, unique identities of these people with whom they build their lives – well, it makes me sad.
I also find myself absolutely unable to contribute to entire conversations. What do I have to say about school choice or discipline strategies? Usually, I just sit and listen – or check email on my phone.
I love my friends, and I wouldn’t trade them or one minutes with them for the world – not for anything at all. I wouldn’t want them to have any less of all the glorious people they have (even though I know they are not always glorious). Yet, sometimes, it is very hard to be in those friendships. Very hard.
How do you guys negotiate friendships with people who are married and/or have children? How do you find your place in those relationships?
Sometimes being a woman—and a mother—brings achingly, painfully beautiful moments into our lives.
Becky and Her Daughter Now
When our daughter was six, she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. After her second surgery, Sarah was moved from Intensive Care back to the peds oncology floor and since she was still on morphine and couldn’t walk due to the pain of her incision, she had to use a bedpan.
On one particular night, she called to me that she had to go to the bathroom so I got up to help her. She was in such pain though, that I couldn’t move her and adjust the bedpan at the same time without hurting her even more; I finally rang for help and one of the wonderfully patient nursing assistants appeared almost immediately to lend a hand.
I don’t know why such a simple act would be so indelibly burned into my memory but I will never forget standing there beside my suffering daughter, looking down at her almost naked, scarred, bruised body, and seeing her stripped of the dignity and innocence of her childhood. Since she didn’t possess the strength to walk to the privacy of the bathroom, she was having to attend to one of the most basic and private of human needs with an audience around her.
She was powerless, helpless, dependent, and miserable—there were no sweet smiles, no rosy cheeks, no golden curls. There was only the sight of a small child too weary for the battle and a weeping mother who could do nothing at all to help except kiss the skin on the top of her head and whisper the comforting words that only a broken hearted parent knows how to say.
It seemed to me that the whole world faded away that night and all that remained were the nursing assistant and me, bound together in an intimate, sacred moment of ministering to “the least of these.”
I loved my daughter more at that moment than I ever had before—far more than I did when she was happy and healthy and gorgeous. I loved her with a deeper love than I ever knew could exist for another human being and I was honored to be standing by her in the middle of the night, being a load lifter and an armor-bearer for the beloved, bald soldier of my heart.
I have gazed into the face of sorrow and pain. I have heard a little girl’s whimpers of fear and discomfort. I have seen the compassionate heart of a medical helper. I have seen all of life boiled down to a few holy moments in the middle of the night–moments that were holy because even in the midst of great suffering, peace was in the air, love was in our hearts, and hope was in the room.
Becky Smith is a book addict, cancer mom, blogger, published songwriter, pastor’s wife, thrift store shopper, breast cancer survivor and mashed potato lover.
Despite my best efforts, I was sure that this would be the year I would have my Christmas cards sent out the first week in December. Heck, maybe even the last week of November. I was going to beat everyone else and our family’s card, letter, and photo would be the first to arrive in mailboxes all over the country. I even began buying the Virgin Mary Christmas stamps, one book a week, as soon as they hit the post office. I wrote my letter early and made copies at the UPS store on the 4-cent Friday. I found a family photo of us from this past summer and printed it at Ritz during their 6-cent Tuesday-Wednesday. They even had a cute caption and a pretty white border. It did not matter that this year I have a toddler running around and this year my husband is coming home from Afghanistan smack in the middle of the holiday season. (Praise the Lord for that one, by the way!) Nope, I am Mrs. Efficient and Mrs. Thrifty and my cards were going out on time.
Fast-forward a month and a half later and my cards are yet to be sent. Several times I have quarreled with the idea of throwing all of them in the garbage. (Or the burn pile…don’t want to be a victim of identity theft now do we?) Regardless of the fact that the letters, family photo, most recent photo of our little girl, and even sticker with info about our new blog are already sealed inside all of the envelopes that are already addressed and stamped. Enter Mrs. Perfectionist who I am trying so desperately to part with. You see, I have a massive list of families and friends that I send cards to every year. And each year I try to check off who has sent us a card and who we have sent cards to. This also requires updating addresses when someone moves, etc. That is the daunting task that is holding me back. Last year this event even turned into a New Year’s letter being sent.
Well today is the day. I am getting those letters out on January 13th if it means I have to stay up until 4am. I am also vowing that next year, if the cards are not ready by mid-December, then they are not important. I have recently begun de-cluttering many things in my life from objects in the storage unit to Internet use and other activities that are taking up too much of my time. So instead of calling it a “resolution” which only leads to feeling like a failure for not fulfilling that ‘perfectly,’ I’m just going to say that it is a number one goal of mine to focus on what is important and that means more time with my family and less time trying to be perfect.
Colleen Ellig is a proud wife and full-time mom with a degree in Psychology and a certificate in Elementary Education. She also co-pilots the website Chasing the When alongside her husband.
I woke up in the middle of the night last week scheming some expensive plan that involved travel and new outfits; probably something to do with the “resort” clothing catalogs arriving each January I thought, “Oh. You’re too old for that.” I’d also need a serious Brazilian Wax and pedicure.
I’m past my fourth decade. I never was able to have children. I’ve danced at my friends’ weddings over the past decade. They each had children and entered the Mommy Universe – a place I’ll never be: with them or otherwise. I’m still the same person I was when I was 32, except I’m not.
I still exercise 5 mornings a week in order to be “ultra sleek”. There is nothing to be “ultra sleek” for – except for me. There are no more nights spent dancing or having parties at each other’s homes. There are parties at homes of course; for other people in the Parental Universe. I’m lonely.
At a time in my life when I thought I’d be married with children and a career – I’m married with a career and an obsessive exercise habit. I also have a nasty addiction to clothes and shoes. I need a twelve step program because, honestly, WHO ever sees me besides the four other people I work with? I could wear the same outfit every day for two weeks and I’m nearly certain no one would notice.
I notice myself. I notice when that dress makes me feel like an elegant Druid. I notice those boots that looked great on line but make me feel like a Storm Trooper. I also notice the extra 5 pounds so no matter how much I want to raid the Hershey Kiss stash in the office – I don’t.
I strive for a healthy relationship with my self and with my husband. I don’t think any of us ever truly gets it perfect. For instance, on New Year’s Eve I had tears streaming down my face because I’ll never have children. I thought I was over that. Apparently not.
So what’s a woman to do? Call her girlfriend who has entered the Grandma Universe and plan a weekend away to a SKI RESORT. No new outfits required; or skiing for that matter. Strike a Pose!
Shawna Martin studied Philosophy at Temple University, is a huge Prince fan, a voracious reader and very content with her odd family of two humans, two cats, and a wily Brittany Spaniel. She works for LMI Advertising.
Sorry, I saw Fiddler on The Roof one too many times when I was growing up! For me, the holiday season has always been about traditions. As a girl, I remember so many at Christmastime – making a birthday cake for baby Jesus, the candlelight Christmas Eve service, going to Park City Mall with $100 (!) and getting gifts for all my friends and family, laying under the tree with my brother and looking up at all the lights…there were so many things that made Christmas Christmas for me. And now, I’m the (exhausted, thrilled, frightened) mother of a 5-year-old dude. What traditions am I handing down to him?
I suppose I should say, in the interest of honesty, that my husband and I are not huge on tradition. We are too annoyed with the line to see Santa to stop and wait for the time-honored pic with the jolly guy. I think we both just want to survive this game of life and don’t always get caught up in the small details that make traditions possible. This sounds morose when I write it that way, but it’s not – it’s just the way we live our life. Maybe it’s just that we don’t conciously create traditions. I suppose we won’t know what Henry takes away as his holiday traditions until he’s older, or old enough to tell us about them in a non-Inception-like fashion.
I often worry about this child-rearing approach: am I messing up my child by not giving him these stable experiences, a sense of what to expect each year? Isn’t there something to be said for raising your child with the same experiences, year in and year out – at least at Christmastime? The beauty of becoming a mother is that I got the chance to just chuck it all out the window. Ever since the doctor came in and said the words Ed and I had been praying for – “I think it’s time to talk about a C-section” – I’ve had to admit/accept that I am not in charge here. Yes, my name’s on the insurance card and I control the cookie jar, but I am so far from being the person who makes our lives happen. I like to think that the three of us, as a collective, make that happen…together. And this is the sticking point for traditions. If you wanna have ‘em, you’ve got to be in charge of ‘em.
For the past 5 years, life has just happened – in a glorious, wonderful, crazy way. We’ve had wonderful adventures and I’ve learned so much (lately, about the Justice League), and that’s all been possible because I’ve stopped dictating every second of everything. Life just got to be too much for me to control (if my husband’s reading this, he’s for sure snickering by now, if not outright gaffawing – stop it, Ed).
Looking forward, I hope the traditions we make – whatever they are- are about us, as a family, living life together. And hopefully, that cake part sticks around.
Heather Heisig is a full-time Montessori teacher, mother and wife. She’s also a book enthusiast, TV nerd and all-around goofball. This is her first time in almost ten years writing something other people will read.
There are clods of dirt on the roof of the Audi.
The Audi is always perfectly clean, and something of an incongruity. It’s the fire engine red of a Ferrari, but it’s a station wagon. It possesses a sporty engine to match its color and enough trunk space to hold the gear of small children.
Let’s rewind to the night before. I return home from work late, and it’s already dark outside. There are a row of condos on the hill overlooking our house, and there’s a noisy party going on at one of them. Mom and Dad are clearly out of town, and the back porch appears to have been taken over by their high school son and a dozen of his friends. The music blares loudly but not out of control, and I look at them more out of envy than annoyance. I disappear back into a home where nighttime means dinner and baths, stories and bedtime. We may watch a DVD if we’re feeling really adventurous.
The next day, there are clods of dirt on the roof of the Audi.
How, one might ask, could dirt end up on the roof of the car? Particularly on the roof of a car that is washed a couple of times per week. There are a few more on the car port, bombs of green and brown that had fallen a few feet short of the car. A quick look around for potential trajectory leads my line of vision to the wreck of the porch above me.
The partygoers are eating breakfast. It is eleven o’clock in the morning. The boys are wearing boxers and no shirts, even though it’s cold outside. The girls are buried in hooded sweatshirts, long hair falling in their cups of coffee.
I make a big show of walking around the car and putting my hands on my hips. I huff. I say, “WHO COULD HAVE DONE THIS?”
My children pick up the charge, suckers for anything with intrigue, “WHO DID THIS TO OUR CAR?”
My husband comes outside, and we wait for him to notice that something is wrong with his baby. In case he doesn’t, I stir the pot by pointing it out, which moves things along. He doesn’t look as angry as I expect, and this is somehow disappointing. We all get in the car and head out for a quiet, family Sunday lunch.
On our way down our street, he suddenly turns sharply to the right to take the steep bank up to the condos.
“Dadddyy…..” say the children, clearly excited by the possibility of a dispute.
He wordlessly parks the car and storms away. I have some moments of doubt, wondering if children were playing outside the previous day, if I had pointed the Adult finger of blame too quickly.
He returns about a minute later.
“Well?” I ask.
“He didn’t deny it,” said my husband. “I told him not to let it happen again.”
Telling them not to do it again just seemed like they were getting away with something.
“I also said that the next time, I would come up and kick his ass.”
We start to snicker. This sounds better, both menacing and on a level a teenager might appreciate. Evidently, the kid agreed fully that this was the last time. He might have even used the word “sir.”
We wonder for a moment how we became those old folks it’s fun to torment on the street. Throwing things at someone’s house, at a certain age, isn’t malicious so much as it is a solution to boredom. I wondered if they were actually aiming for our gutters, and the car got in the way. Cheers probably ensued. It may have looked like a basketball game. It’s hard to begrudge them that. We live out in the country where there isn’t a lot to do, except throw dirt off your front porch. Hey, maybe we would feel like throwing dirt too if we could stay up late enough to drink more than one beer. No one’s ass was ever getting kicked, but our young neighbor doesn’t know that…and maybe that will make the game more interesting for them the next time.
Amanda Callendrier teaches composition and coordinates the Writing Center at the Geneva, Switzerland campus of Webster University. She blogs for Skirt!.
My two-week-old grandson gazes at me, his dark blue eyes focused intently on my face. I smile at him, singing one of several songs I’ve made up to soothe him when he cries, and maintaining eye contact for as long as he allows.
I hope he’s memorizing my face, associating it with the sound of my voice and filing it away in the data bank of his rapidly expanding brain so he’ll recognize me when we’ve been apart for weeks or months at a time.
I’ve been waiting a long time for this child, the first member of a new generation in our family. Over these years of waiting I’ve developed a lot of expectations about being a grandparent, mostly because my own grandparents were such an integral part of my life. They came to live with us when I was three years old, and their constant presence was an astounding gift. My grandfather was a gentle, soft-spoken man who taught me to ride a bike and play poker all in the same summer. My grandmother was perpetually busy, flitting from one project to the next, but she always made time to read me a story or play a song on the piano so I could dance and sing along.
My son had nearly the same benefits of grandparental connection as I had, because my own parents lived only a short bike ride away. So I took it for granted that when I became a grandmother I would duplicate the role made famous by my own grandmother and mother. I would be a constant, daily presence in my grandchild’s life, always available to play games, read stories, host overnights, and drive the carpool. I’d be the lifesaver when mom and dad needed a night out or a weekend away.
I would be There with a capitol “T”.
But it won’t be that simple. My grandson lives over 1,000 miles away – not down the hall, not down the street. Even if I can manage a visit every month or two, it isn’t the same as dropping by after nap time to go to the park, or running over to babysit at a moment’s notice, or coming along to doctor appointments and shopping trips to provide an extra pair of hands.
How do I reconcile this picture in my mind with the reality of the kind of grandmother I must be in the 21st century? The kind who reads stories on Skype instead of snuggled in the rocking chair, or the kind who comes to stay for a few days every once in a while, bringing gifts and disrupting the daily routine. The kind who is an interesting, welcome presence but not really part of one’s life.
Not the way my grandmother was for me.
Not the way I wanted it to be.
Life is all about reinvention. We have to use creativity and imagination to find new ways of making relationships work in the modern world. Although I don’t have a model for the kind of grandmother I need to be, the abundance of love in my heart for this little boy will surely inspire me to create my own model of modern day grandparenting. I’ll learn to make the most of every precious moment we spend together, moments like this one as we sit in front of the Christmas tree singing made up songs and gazing into each others eyes.
And I’ll hope he remembers each one of them as much as I will.
How about you? Were your grandparents an important part of your life? If you have grandchildren, how do you maintain a close relationship with them?
Becca Rowan is a writer, musician, and now a proud grandmother to Connor Alexander, born November 14, 2011. She blogs regularly at Becca’s Byline, Bookstack, and Write on Wednesday. She is also a Contributing Editor at All Things Girl magazine. If she’s not reading, writing, playing the piano, or cuddling with Connor, you’ll probably find her out walking her two ShihTzu’s or riding her bike.
I’ve noticed a trend in the last year. It’s not a trend I like. It’s a trend I especially dislike when it’s directed at me.
Maybe it’s because I lost my mom that I’m more sensitive, or more it’s because most of these women know that I lost my mom and think, thus, I need mothering. Whatever it is – I don’t like it.
Older women seem to think if their job to mother me, and by “mother” me, I don’t mean make me cookies and crochet me scarves – those things I like. Nope, instead, they seem to think that the best way to love me is to give me advice. I don’t like advice.
You see, my mom was really not one for advice. I can only remember one time when she directly gave me advice, and that was in a letter, and it was clearly advice hard-wrung from her hand. It was about being not only “innocent as doves,” but also “wise as serpents.” She was concerned that I was being naive. She was right.
But that’s it. The only advice she ever gave me.
Somehow, though, these older women seem to think I need a lot of advice. Maybe it’s because I’m open with my struggles; maybe it’s that they think that trying to show me a way through these struggles is what I’m asking for; maybe it’s because they don’t like to see me struggle and, thus, want to get me past the challenge as fast as possible. I don’t know exactly why they do it.
But I wish they’d stop.
What I need are people who listen, people who tell me their stories and let me draw my own wisdom from their experiences, people who hold my hand and laugh with me and hand me a cookie. I don’t need answers. I need support.
So please, if you know a woman who is struggling, don’t advise her. Don’t tell her how to “get over it” or get past it or get beyond it. Instead, sit with her and listen. Then, share. Be a friend.
That’s what my mother did, and she was the best.
As I write this post, late on Friday, November 25th, I am living my 366th day on this earth without my mom. Ruth M. Cumbo passed away last year on Thanksgiving day at just after 4am.
Just the other night, I woke up from a nightmare where I had been groaning, “Mommy! Mommy!” over and over. Even in the dream, I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t rescuing me.
Many loving people have sympathized with me over this year. I have heard tearful stories of mothers who died twenty years ago, of those totally unknown, of those still living by in failing health. I have appreciated all of these as personal, painful, lovingly told stories. Stories are what bind us together.
But even as I listen to these, even as I know that people are reaching out and holding me with their words, I still feel alone in this. My grief is unique to me, just as my mother was unique to me.
For me, grief is compounded by the fact that – despite all the love that surrounds me – I grieve my mom alone, without a partner, without children who might give me glimpses of her expressions or gestures. It is a scary thing to be both motherless and not a mother.
I miss, most, of late, my mother’s hands. Whenever she was in a conversation where people were real and, thus, there was risk (and she loved these conversations) her fingers constantly worked a pattern on her jeans – as if the movement of her hand against her thigh might calm the hearts of those in the room.
I miss her fingers on the piano – so pale in their tint, so soft, so confident. Something that Mom kept tucked away in herself – a humble strength, a confidence – came alive when she played music. I miss that.
So while others miss Mom and while others miss their moms, no one misses her like I do. And this is both beautiful and almost impossibly hard.
Who do you miss? What do you miss most?
If you’d like to read more about why my mom was so important to so many, please see the guest post I was honored to write for Confessions of a Funeral Director, Caleb Wilde’s blog.
On Tuesday, I wrote about the pain of being single, so while I’m on a role with pouring out my most sensitive spots, I thought I’d tackle the other life issue that hurts me deeply – being childless. Actually, it’s not really being childless that hurts; it’s society’s reaction to this situation that is painful.
I have never been one of those women who really wants kids or who wanted her life’s work to be raising children. I honor and respect that desire, but it has never been mine. In fact, I’ve never even really wanted to be pregnant – just wasn’t given that desire.
At times in my life, I have really wanted to be a mother – to care for children and have a world that is circumscribed largely by the people who live in my house. At other times, I have wanted to be married (that desire never changes) but not have children – just enjoy my life with my husband.
As I’ve gotten older and most of my friends have had children, I have been blessed to love those kids with a passion. (Given, now I need a calendar to keep their birthdays straight – and I still miss some – but I love them all the same.) But more and more, the fact that my friends are parents and I am not has been a challenge for me in my friendships.
Some of that challenge comes from the sheer realities of life – their lives are focused on raising other humans to be healthy, wise, loving people, and those smaller humans require a lot of time and energy and thought and care. My life is dictated by what works for me on that day; I think about other people all the time, but ultimately, how I spend my day is my choice. This is a drastic difference in perspective – a difference that can be hard to overcome when we are making conversation or talking about our life’s struggles.
But there’s another element of the challenge of friendship between people with kids and those that don’t have kids – it’s subtle, but it can also be hurtful, especially if you’re among the few who don’t have children. As this article from Shine sums up, I can easily begin to feel inferior or clueless, and sometimes it seems like people think that you can’t understand children or empathize with them if you aren’t a parent. (I wrote a huge rant about this once because an NPR commentator implied that only a mother could understand the pain of children ). I know that part of my sensitivity is that I feel like I’m missing out on something, something that may entirely pass me by, but part of it is, genuinely, a subtle belief by some that parents are better people.
Most people I know who are parents are incredibly gracious, loving people who talk to me like I’m an equal, thinking, insightful adult. Most folks treat me like I am, indeed, fully capable. But once in a while, someone responds to me – particularly in discussions about kids – like I am so dumb I’m lucky I can find my way out of bed in the morning. Those responses make me angry, but more deeply they hurt me because they imply that because I have not spent days and months at a time parenting children I am an idiot. This is not so.
Just because I am childless does not mean that I care less for children, that I don’t know what it is to feel profound, unquestioning love, that I am not tired or worn out or frustrated, or that I am somehow less of a person because I don’t have children. It also doesn’t mean that I want my friendships to flag or to be left out of birthday parties or gatherings just because I’m not a mom. I want to be a part of all that life can give me.
So when you know someone who doesn’t have children, don’t assume the choice was theirs or that it wasn’t. Don’t assume that they don’t want to be around you or your kids. Don’t assume that they can’t show your children love and grace in profound, fresh ways. Don’t assume anything, in fact, at all.
One of the things that this journey of life has taught me is that although our paths may be very different, our struggles, our questions, our joys are often very much the same – and I have also learned that we all are trying to do the best we can. Parent or childless. Single or married. Gay or straight. Rich or poor. Black or white. We are all built in the Image . . . and to that we must live.