Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Out of the Gray

I think that there is something about this seemingly never-ending winter and my raging seasonal affective disorder that has got my mind already travelling to spring and got my heart stuck on Mother’s Day. And it made me wonder, did you ever imagine what your life would be like? Did you ever have a moment, where the reality of living out a scene from the life imagined was just so shockingly different from the life-long fantasy that you literally felt stuck somehow, like there was some murky uncomfortable gray area that defined the space between the path you thought your life would take and the path it actually did? It’s a dark, sticky, murky, sucky, uncomfortable space. That space between what was supposed to be and what is.

Which is exactly where I landed on my first Mother’s Day as a mother. All of us have different visions of where they think their lives will twist and turn and lead them, but I always knew that somehow, some way, mine would lead me toward motherhood. And in my fantasy land version of that first Mother’s Day, I pictured me holding this adorable baby, celebrating on a sunny day outside with my own mother, 3 generations of strength and mothering all coming together and celebrating the milestone of it being my very first time to be both the honorer, and the honoree.
In the end, my first Mother’s Day as a mother was on May 11, 2008, exactly 6 days after I buried my own mother. It was my first Mother’s Day without a mother. There were no smiles or sunshine (although I kind of remembering it being sunny – I just didn’t feel sunny). There was no multi-generational picture of mothers and mothers of mothers grinning at each other and their children for a memorable photo. No funny cards or flowers. Just raw. It was the first time I can genuinely say that Mother’s Day hurt, like walking around all day long with this throbbing open sore on my chest. I think Phil gave me a card. I thought little of Dylan and my own special growing bond with him, and mostly of my own sadness. I counted the hours till it was over.

In some ways, I spent much of Dylan’s first year that way, thinking not nearly enough of the mother I wanted to be – only of the mother and the fantasy I’d lost. Of Mother’s Days and first birthdays and baby clothes and silent giggles and knowing looks and that feeling that finally we have this whole new level where we get each other, not just as mother and daughter, but as mother and mother. I spent too much time stuck in the gray of missing what wasn’t. And in doing so, I almost missed what was.
Amazingly, 5 years have gone by. My chubby baby has grown into a handsome little almost kindergartner. We’ve added a little ray of Joy to our family too. And I am finally learning to enjoy the Mother’s Day that is. In part what has helped is starting a few of my own new traditions for that day. One thing I share with my mother is our complete inability to grow anything. She didn’t have a green thumb. Love her as I did, she was more the black widow of plants, an unfortunate trait I’ve inherited. But Mother’s Day is the one time of year I pretend and actually enjoy attempting to garden.

It is the time of year when the local nursery puts out its first flowers for planting, just safely past most of chilly nights and spring frost. I love going and finding colors that are pretty and bright and remind me that the white and brown of winter is finally drawing to a close. I love finding that one spot in the yard where I can actually grow stuff and getting on my knees and digging into the soft earth and carefully giving those delicate young plants some extra soil, a little water, a little extra attention. I love marking that from that day on and every day after that spring and summer, I will have the great fortune of getting to watch them grow. It’s the same gift I gave my mother for all those years. It is the gift they now give to me. Indeed, it is a present. Out of the gray and in full living color - it is the present.

It is the very best gift indeed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Valentine to Myself (and a few other mommies I'm thinking of...)

Dear Valentine,

For many, many years you were the single girl. The girl who bought yourself chocolates at the Duane Reade and watched Nora Ephron movies inside her UWS apartment on those lonely single Valentine’s Day nights, believing that none of it would ever change and that you would die alone in there at some point with the box of chocolates and the receipt from the Duane Reade which would embarrassingly prove to everyone long after you were dead that you bought them for yourself. And then one day you weren’t alone anymore. One day, someone bought you chocolates. Actually, it was a bottle of water outside Fairway but still, the sentiment was there. And Valentine’s Days were really never the same since.
But this year, I challenge you to reach back to lonely Duane Reade chocolate girl, because more than anything she knew how strong and smart and capable she was. And sometimes in the whirlwind that is marriage and children and families, finding yourself in a tornado of schedules and personalities and individual needs of other tiny humans, you just might’ve forgotten that.

Please remember you are strong and independent. Remember that your husband liked those things most about you when you met him. Remember that you liked that about yourself too. Remind yourself that marriage doesn’t mean forgetting about what you like, what you think, or what you feel. It means having the courage to share that with someone else, not subvert it. Love can’t grow from a place that hides stuff.
Also, you are beautiful. I know that you ate the children’s M&Ms that you bought them for Valentine’s Day and really, that wasn’t cool. But it’s okay because you are beautiful inside and out. That looking good means feeling good about where you are and who you are, not just what you want to be. That loving yourself is the most important thing you can ever do for your children or your husband because it is a reminder that it is okay to love themselves as they are.

Oh – and one more thing Valentine. Please try to remember that every real and amazing experience you ever truly had in life came from a place where you let go. And so this year, remember that feeling. Because that willingness to let go was exactly what led you to find this place of true love that you call a family. And most good things in your extremely limited experience came from a place where you didn’t think, but just jumped. It’s okay to not always be in control.
Finally, you are enough. If you worked too much or too little, if the house isn’t clean and their hair isn’t brushed and the smart phone is smarter than you and the dinner is hot dogs – again, it’s okay. It’s enough. I am enough. You are enough. Enough is fullness. Enough is wholeness. Enough is good.

So Happy Valentine’s Day me. You are strong, independent and beautiful. Don’t forget - you are enough.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snow Day

Today was a snow day. Actually more like a blizzard day. For the past 31 hours (but who’s counting) we’ve been house-bound while it snowed like G-d had a master plan to make CT its snowy bitch and dumped nearly three feet of snow on our house, city and state. I had planned for us to be stuck most of Saturday but my presumption was that by Sunday life would mostly return to normal. But our driveway is still blocked by snowdrifts that are both un-climable and larger than Dylan (guessing somewhere between 4 and 5 feet). A Sunday burst of freedom is looking murky, much like my sanity.

Here is what a snow day appears to mean to the children: I have no responsibilities and unfettered access to both my parents. Though we will go nowhere, I will change my clothes multiple times and insist on bulking up on baked goods at random points throughout the day. Here is what it appears to mean to my husband: unlike a regular weekend when I nap once, on snow days I will nap twice. Snow days are apparently the Passover of other days to Phil: on this day, he dips twice. Here is what it means to me: I transform into some sort of crazed short order cook/camp counselor who cooks, dances, plays soldiers, cuts valentines, does whatever needs to be done for nearly 14 hours straight.
The day started somewhere around 6:30AM with the children asking why we were still asleep. By 7:45AM, Dylan and Phil were playing Life at the kitchen table. By 8AM, Dylan and Ruby were having their first fight of the day over where they should sit at the kitchen table. I was cooking egg sandwiches. By 9AM, I was literally panic-stricken that it was only 9AM and forced Phil to make a minute-by minute schedule of how the rest of the day would go. It included things that I imagined happened in the pretend version of my family that exists only in my head when there is a snow day, like “family storytime by the fireplace.”

At 11AM, Dylan still wasn’t dressed. Ruby, however, was on her 4th outfit. At noon, Dylan proudly proclaimed that he “tricked” me by not wearing underwear all morning. We all ate blizzard babka (which is babka you eat when you are stuck in a blizzard). I put on a movie and Phil took his first nap. During the movie which only one child watched, Ruby assumed an alternate personality named Lee-fa and I was supposed to become someone named Chloe. We lived in Shake it Up land. When it was over, I spent 25 minutes getting everyone in their snow gear so that they could experience history making weather. Ruby lasted 2 minutes. Dylan lasted 4. They both cried that their hands were freezing while I futilely tried to explain that this is what happens when you fill your mittens with snow.
When they were done, I begged Phil to bring them back inside while I tried to hastily shovel an escape route. When I’d tunneled my way mostly to the street but realized there was still nowhere to go, I reluctantly headed back inside. Phil napped again and I moved on to the cooking portion of the show. As we’ve been on a bit of a dairy-free kick and sort of gluten-free kick here, we made dairy-free gluten free muffins. Strangely, they were awesome. So awesome that when I told Ruby she couldn’t have a second one at 4:30PM, she cried so hard that she literally passed out from exhaustion at 5pm, sitting up on the couch. And for anyone with a toddler, you might understand just how terrifying it is to realize your 3 year old is asleep at 5pm. For those of you who don’t, find a toddler and give it a red bull somewhere around 5 o’clock. Then try to put it to bed at 7pm as it swings from the chandeliers and sings and dances and plays in a manic way. Picture Alex Keaton from that Family Ties episode when he pounds the No Doz before the big test. This is your three year old on a 5pm nap.

It is finally night time and I am back upstairs for tucking in. I look at sweet Ruby under the covers. Still having no idea what any of it means, I say “goodnight Lee-fa.” She answers back sweetly, “goodnight Chloe.” I suspect this is parenthood in a nutshell, right? Not knowing what any of it means but most of the time blindly following their lead, knowing that if it comes from a good place, it has to lead somewhere good. As I head downstairs for some blizzard babka, I ponder my new alternate personality and the potential 14 hours of unscripted home-based programming that awaits us tomorrow. This time there will be no schedule. It will be random but probably fun and also probably involve jazz hands, chocolate and super heroes. I will follow their lead.