Balancing “Me” Time and Mommy Guilt

[http://personalexploration.blogspot.com]

  Yesterday morning I indulged myself with a visit to a day spa. I had received a gift certificate during the holiday season. I kept putting off scheduling an appointment because of kid’s illnesses, school vacations, tennis tournaments… you name it, my kids took priority.

So I finally found a day that worked for me when my kids did not need me. For the value of my gift certificate I was able to receive an herbal bath followed by a sixty minute massage. Ahh… the life of a SAHM. Isn’t that what we all do? At least when we are not watching daytime tv…

[http://spa-topia.com]

The bath should have been a relaxing soak, letting the jets loosen up my muscles while breathing in the aromatic herbal therapies my masseur threw into the bubbling water. Instead I kept wondering how much time had passed and whether I would make it home in time to bring a cooler of drinks to my son’s final “fun” practice.

Then the masseur transferred me to a quiet room with zen music and low lighting. I laid face down on the soft sheets while he worked his magic on all my tight spots. It was just what I needed to erase my stress and release my tension; but somehow I found it hard to focus on the moment.

[http://zantesalonspa.com]

I found my mind drifting into thoughts about how much my daughter would like this- how it would release the anxiety of her upcoming final exams. I tried to analyze the techniques my masseur was using so I could replicate them on her at home. I also contemplated the possibility of giving her a gift certificate to use as a birthday present. After all, I thought, doesn’t she deserve such luxurious treatment too?

I finally had to yell at myself (in my head, of course) and say: “What about Me time? This is supposed to be about Me! Can’t I stop thinking about my kids- either how much this would help them or if I will make it to their practice on time- for a mere 90 minutes?”

I don’t know if the fact that I am not working this year has put me on Mommy High Alert, or if I was always like this and didn’t realize it. Somehow I have to work out a more even balance between “Me” time and “Mommy” time.

[http://mamanyc.net]

I don’t know how she does it. Doesn’t she look calm and in control? Relaxation was the purpose of my spa visit. It seems ironic that it didn’t turn out that way.

Memorial Day Reflections

Flag of the United States at the memorial to P...

Flag of the United States at the memorial to President Kennedy in Hyannis, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last weekend my son played in a memorial tennis tournament. It was held in the honor of a promising high school tennis player whose life was cut short last summer. The story I read about him was very moving and I am not surprised that my son immediately wanted to sign up to commemorate this young man. The police report indicated that the boy was just a passenger, on his way to tennis camp, and had the ill-fated luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Memorial Day is when we honor all the men and women who bravely serve in the military, protecting this country’s freedom and principles. Parents who send their children off to fight in wars have much trepidation and anxiety. They know that the odds are high that their son or daughter will come back wounded or worse. Parents who send their teens off to summer camp never anticipate such a horrible thing happening.

It makes me think about the adventures of my own children. They are both going to spend time at separate camps this summer. These should be exciting adventures for them and expand their worlds beyond our suburban town. Meeting new people and learning new things are the best part of camp. Should I reconsider letting them go? Absolutely not! In fact, they probably face worse possibilities at home.

For all the attention that airplane crashes seem to get, it is actually far more risky to be in a car. Everyday there are stories about fatal crashes, many not the fault of the driver. This summer my daughter will be getting her driver’s permit. Like myself as a teen, she has been counting the years, months and now weeks until she turns 16. I will be spending time on the road with her and doing my best to teach her defensive driving skills. She is a very cautious person and will be a safe driver; but it is all the other crazy ones who worry me.

I learned to drive on Long Island- on one of the busiest highways outside of NYC. My family had temporarily relocated there and my parents obtained special permission for me to enroll in driver’s ed. On Long Island one had to be 17, but they must have convinced the official in charge that they would supervise any time I was driving. When I return to the area these days and realize how much traffic there is and the speed at which these drivers race and swerve, I wonder why my parents went out of their way to get me in the class. If I was living there today, I would not be in such a rush to get my daughter behind the wheel. It’s funny how I thought it was fantastic at the time, but when I look back on it I can only imagine how nervous they must have been. I am sure the reason they agreed to it, was because they knew how important driving was to my sense of independence.

My son rides out on the roads, too. He and his friends have been expanding their bike rides to a couple of miles down to the ice cream stand. The last time he and a friend went off, I had to stop them and remind them to wear their helmets. I’m not sure how much protection they would actually provide if either of them crashed, but at least it makes me feel like I am doing something to take care of them. Hopefully they did not ditch the helmets as soon as they rode out of sight. I think I have made it clear how important I think their safety is to me.

My family also does alot of carpooling to practices, the mall, movies and amusment parks. So far all the driving has been done by adults- other parents whom I feel I can trust as safe drivers. That will start to change soon as our children reach the point where they have a junior license and can take passengers. Even with the best laid rules and plans, things can go wrong.

I still feel strongly about the right to independence, though. Our job as parents is to give our kids these experiences, whether they learn how to take care of themselves at summer camp or how to navigate around town on a bike or behind the wheel. We don’t want them to reach the age of adulthood and suddenly find themselves off at college with no idea of how to manage.

The other day, my son called me outside to the spot where a baby robin was splayed on the ground. I am sure it was one of the fledglings from the nest on our front porch. One who had flown away only a few days earlier, prodded by its parents to fly and see the world. I still see its siblings flitting about in the trees and hear them calling to each other. It is sad to see that one of them did not make it beyond his first day of freedom.

Obviously, there is no comparison between that baby bird and the boy who died last summer. His loss will leave a permanent hole in the hearts of his family and friends. This Memorial Day tennis tournament is a way of helping to heal that wound, but it will never go away. Likewise, when we watch the parades we remember all the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice that can not be repaid in medals of honor or ceremonial flags.

Most of us view Memorial Day weekend as an opportunity to take a much needed break from work or school, throw a party, or take a mini vacation. While I am happy to have the extra day off, I am glad I was able to find at least a few moments to reflect on the real intention behind the holiday. My thoughts, prayers and appreciation go out to all the families who have lost members who fought to protect the freedom of the American people and their allies.

Miss Kim is my BFF

Miss Kim has arrived for a short stay at my house. She has a very welcoming personality, showing off her true colors and filling the air with her presence. The only reason she has any competition for attention is her timing. Right now the attractive Bearded Iris are flowering and calling their own followers. Their dark purple heads emitting powdery scents are a tough match for Miss Kim, but she prevails with her overpowering aromas and abundant florets.

Just breathing the air when Miss Kim is present can put me into a swoon. If I am having a stressful afternoon, holding a branch up to my face and inhaling her sweet perfume puts me in a happy mood.

She greeted me with a 20 foot long display of light purple lilacs and made my arduous task of repainting every spindle on my deck railing pleasurable. Even though I spent 3 hours coating every surface with new stain, Miss Kim kept me company.

Later I brought a huge bouquet, overflowing with Iris and Lilacs, into the house. The fragrant scent spread through the kitchen and family room and seemed to make everyone calm and happy.

At the end of the day, I clipped a single branch and placed Miss Kim in a tiny vase by my bedside. As I settled down under my covers, I enjoyed her sensual aromas fanned by the cool night air and the sound of crickets chirping. It was truly a night of bliss. I awoke this morning feeling relaxed and happy because Miss Kim is still here for a few more days.

Appearance Matters

It seems to have become an annual tradition that the week before Memorial Day, we spruce up our outdoor spaces. The threat of frost has passed, the gardens are in bloom and we are ready to kick off some barbecues. Before we do though, our chores include weeding and mulching the gardens; as well as power washing the decks and siding and repainting the cedar furniture and deck.

Instead of seeing a dried out, tangled patch of assorted plants running amok, we now have  a weedfree garden, freshly covered in dark wood chips and bursting with purple orange and pink flowers. The difference in appearance is stunning!

   

Likewise, washing the cumulative dirt, leaves and cobwebs off the front porch and slapping a fresh coat of cheery almond stain on the rocking chairs and tables makes the space much more appealing- especially when I add the new throw pillows and a hanging geranium.

The work is time-consuming and sometimes messy, but the results are well worth it. Because I know what is involved, I dig out my sneakers with the rubber treads wearing off , a baggy pair of shorts which I don’t normally wear but saved for chores like this, and an old t-shirt already decorated with paints of blue, yellow and gray from earlier projects.

By the time I am finished with the front porch furniture, I have smears and speckles of color on my arms and legs. There is even a section of my hair that is clumped together by dried paint. I don’t mind, though. I have been working hard and these marks are proof of that. Besides, I am so happy with the results of my efforts that I decide to keep going and tackle the even bigger project on the deck.

Unfortunately, we are out of stain and I will need to go out for more. I look at my spotted arms and legs, the stains on my shirt and the stiff clump of miscolored hair. I would never consider going to the grocery store like this. With my baggy, unflattering shorts, my sweat-soaked shirt and messy hair I cringe to imagine what people would think if they saw me.

I know it would be a waste of time to shower and change, only to come back and resume painting, so I decide to wear this outfit with pride. Recognizing my smears, stains and unfashionable clothing as the attire of a DIY painter in the middle of a project helped me see my appearance in a different light. After all, I was going to Lowes. Wouldn’t half the people there look like me?

As you can guess, no one gave me a second look or raised an eyebrow. It was obvious I was just coming in for more supplies for my deck project. Going out dressed like this should never have been an issue in the first place. Why should appearance matter so much?

Anyway, I returned home and resumed painting my deck furniture. The new coat of stain hid all the chips, cracks and layers of color the pieces had acquired over a dozen years.

       

They are well-made  adirondack style chairs and now they look as good as new. Once the deck gets its touch-up, I’ll be able to arrange the potted flowers and tiki torches and make it look very inviting. Soon I will be ready to entertain guests and kick off the barbecue season.

I guess that means I better freshen up my pedicure. It is one thing to go to Lowes looking disheveled, but I could never look like that when I have guests. Besides, after all that hard work, don’t my nails deserve equal treatment of a fresh coat of paint? Then it will really feel like summer!

Online Book Shopping

Image representing Barnes & Noble as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

At the end of June, almost a year ago, I received a teacher appreciation gift card to Barnes and Noble. It was a lovely thought; what teacher would not enjoy some good summer reading? The only problem is that I am a library girl. I visit my public library once or twice a week and always have piles of fiction, non-fiction, travel guides, cookbooks and magazines on my nightstand.

I do enjoy my Kindle. Downloading digital books makes packing reading material for vacations light and easy. I try to borrow my e-reads as much as possible; because if I do buy a book, it has to be through Amazon. I know they won’t take my gift card.

Third generation Amazon Kindle

So now I have held onto this gift for close to year and I am concerned it will expire shortly. I have read many book reviews in my quest to find something which I feel is worthy of purchasing.  Those qualifications would include: an author whom I enjoy and possibly have another book by, a book that had fabulous reviews, one that covers a topic of interest to me, something I could pass on to friends or family when I am done.

I came up with a list and decided to finally buy my books. Part of me still felt guilty about buying from an online chain, rather than supporting the local, privately owned shop. I suppose the compromise could have been to drive to the big store at the mall, but I rarely head out in that direction.

The Book Shop With Wigtown being named The Boo...

I decided to approach the owner of the independent store and see if we could work out a deal. I figured if I had her order the books for me and I purchased enough extra material over the gift card value that she would be happy for the business and I could finally unload the card.

I was disappointed that the owner could not figure out a way to make such a plan work- even if she offered to buy it from me at a discount and I bought books she already had in stock. You would think that in an attempt to attract customers she might have been willing to find a creative strategy. Instead she suggested I either gift the card to someone else or buy online. Imagine that- an independent store, struggling for business, yet encouraging me to shop online!

I still could not bring myself to do that; so in order to ease my disappointment,  I went to the library. I found one of the books from my wish list on their well-stocked shelves. I also located the next book I will be reading for my book club. I spontaneously grabbed one of the books which they had cleverly displayed near the front desk. While I felt badly that I couldn’t do business at the local shop, at least my public library was there for me.

Then I went home and placed my order online. The package arrived today. Now I have plenty of summer reading lined up for the next few months. I am only a year behind.

   

School Budget Vote: The Importance of a Well-rounded Education

    Across the capital region, the health of our public education system is in the hands of voters today. Times have been tough. Everyone is watching their bottom line. No one wants to see their taxes go up; but as the state slashes its share of local education costs, schools have no choice but to cut programs. These programs include special education, advanced placement classes, additional language instruction, athletics (including PE) and extra-curricular activities.

This doesn’t leave much room for electives which allow students to choose their areas of study. Instead the focus is on the federal mandates put in place by No Child Left Behind or the Race to the Top.  Even though much of the funding for these programs has been withdrawn, school districts are still being held accountable to these goals. The flaw of these plans is that schools put too much instructional time into the tests, neglecting other subjects in favor of the RRR’s.

We have to step back from this limited perspective and look at the whole picture. If our schools have the highest scores on the national tests, but our students have the lowest participation rates in AP classes, athletics and the arts, all we are doing is turning out a class of robots, not the critical thinkers we need to keep America a global leader.

When I was teaching preschool, I understood how important it was to provide opportunities for physical exercise, creative play and to allow time for spontaneous thinking- not just stick to a proscribed plan. High school should give students a chance to explore their interests and get involved in teams or clubs which will help them stand out in a field of college applicants. In addition to being stepping stones to an area of study in college, one could argue that clubs and teams build cooperative and/or leadership skills which prepare students for the workplace.

If your school district is holding a budget vote today, remember a good education is more than just the basics. In order to turn out a successful generation of workers, we need to provide a well-rounded education to our children. Smaller class sizes and more specialized subject areas  allow more opportunities for interaction, discussion, critical thinking and problem solving. Don’t look at what it costs this year, but rather at what your investment will mean for the future.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Albert Einstein quote

Mother’s Day

Did anyone celebrate Mothers’ Day last weekend? It certainly is a made for America holiday- setting up expectations for gifts, phone calls and fancy brunches or dinners. All the ads featuring perfect family moments made me emotional. I  knew those were fantasies for the movies; yet I secretly wished something similar would happen to me.

I remember my first Mother’s Day. My baby was 10 months old and still nursing. I was home with her every day. The first three months were the toughest, but we had gotten to a point where she had a more predictable routine and I was enjoying playing with her, taking her for walks and making baby talk. My husband knew how hard I was working to take care of her and he made me hand-painted card with the most wonderful words of praise and appreciation of what a good mom  I was. The flowers and gift card were nice tokens of his admiration, but the love and respect he had for me were priceless. I realized that even though being a mom is tough, I was doing my best and my efforts were recognized.

Over the next few years, the kids started to give me cards and gifts they made at nursery school. I would get hugs and kisses and some presents my husband helped them pick out. This cute little celebration was fun and we often attended the Tulip Festival on the afternoon. It was a great family activity to do together, complete with kiddie rides, crafts and fair food.

By the time the kids got to grade school, they started questioning the fairness of Mother’s Day. Why wasn’t there a son or daughter day? Didn’t they deserve recognition too? We tried to start our own holidays for each of them, letting them pick a restaurant or activity and giving them a few presents. However, when they decided they didn’t want to return the appreciation the following year, we dropped them all.

No mom wants to force her child to give her gifts or praise. We are too good to make them lavish attention on us. Besides, forcing them to follow the protocol would result in something that doesn’t feel right because it is not given out of love. At that point it is better to ignore the holiday and remind ourselves that it was concocted by retailers.

Instead I turn my attention to my own mother or mother-in-law. I try to show them my love and respect year round- not just on one day of the year. Mothers deserve that every day and by the time the children are adults they should not need commercial reminders to show appreciation or affection for their moms.

I did send each of my moms a card around Mother’s Day, but the words I wrote were probably more meaningful than the token gift. So while I admit I fell into the trap, at least I know that these exchanges happen randomly throughout the year, as they should- and not just on a dictated day.

To all the moms out there whose children are at that age of defiance between dependence and maturation, hang in there and keep doing your job. When they are adults with children of their own, they will finally appreciate all you have done for them.  And now that Mother’s Day is over, I can go back to watching tv without all those touching commercials.

Baby Pictures

This morning I grabbed my camera and snuck out to the front porch to take some pictures of the Robins nesting there. I think I was inspired by all the beautiful shots of hummingbirds, grosbeaks and goldfinches that Carol has posted on her blog   (http://cjvl.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/it-is-after-all-bird-season/). Even though the American Robin no longer migrates from the Northeast during winter, they do become more active in the spring and the sight of them making a nest full of  bright blue eggs is a sign that Spring is finally here.

Every year, a Robin couple has returned to our front porch to build its nest. I can’t blame them. From the outside, the perch is well-hidden by a climbing hydrangea and sheltered from wind and rain by the roof and lattice-work. On the inside it is quiet and safe from predators. Even the nosy humans don’t pose too much of a threat. The worst thing we do is tear down the nest every summer so they have to start fresh if they choose to come back.

I don’t know where they go after they are done brooding, but somehow they always return, year after year. I find it fascinating that somehow they have a homing device in their brains.

The mother did not like it when I took pictures of her on the nest, but she must not have felt too threatened because she flew off a few minutes later, giving me an opportunity to catch some shots of the babies.  They looked so small and helpless- tiny little beaks with patches of fluff covering their exposed freckled bellies.

It made me think about the responsibilities of the mother. How she sits on the nest to lay the eggs and keep them warm. Then she must fly off in search of food to bring to her young ones. When she determines they are big enough to fly, she must force them out of the nest to spread their wings and face the real world. Warding off foes, hunting for food, seeking shelter and finding a mate are the challenges that lie ahead for these fledglings.

How much support can the mother give them once they have left the nest? And for how long do they stick together? Maybe an ornithologist could tell me in more detail how a bird’s life and social structure parallels humans; but from what I have observed or read I can see the similarities. The biggest difference is the importance of family.

While the bird parents are protective of their young, once they are a few weeks old they lose that connection. Will this Robin mom be sad when her last baby flies away? Statistically, 25% of them don’t even make it past two weeks. At those odds, it is not worth attaching yourself to a young living being. You raise them, send them off and start over again. It’s called the life cycle, right?

Humans, on the other hand, never stop being parents once they have children. Even when the children have offspring of their own, the parents still are bonded to them. Thanks to the average American life span of 78.5 years, we have more time to nurture our children, form strong families and friendships and create multi-generational bonds. The ties to our family members give us confidence and support. Knowing that they will always have our back encourages us to try new things.

It seems a lot more reassuring to a mom to know that even as she gently prods her child out of the home and encourages him to “fly”, he can always call her on his cell phone or hop on a bus and come home.

The Strings that Bind us Together

Twenty one years ago, I was a single woman working on my master’s degree and trying to fit some fun exercise into my free time. I had always loved tennis- having taken lessons and played with friends or family throughout my childhood. When I learned that there was an adult tennis league I decided to join. While most matches were accessible via public transportation, there were a few that required a car. When the team captain asked if anyone could assist me, one member happily volunteered.

He picked me up in his red sedan and we drove off to our match. At that point I hardly knew anything about him; but as the summer progressed and he offered to take me to every match, we became very familiar with each other’s interests and aspirations. He was a much stronger tennis player than I was so we were never partners. He would usually play singles while I played doubles or mixed doubles. Nevertheless, we enjoyed each other’s company on the rides and would often go out for a bite to eat afterwards.

Inevitably our friendship evolved into dating. Sometimes our dates consisted of playing tennis and then going to dinner; but we quickly discovered that we had other common interests. Our favorite activites included hiking, boating and, eventually, cross-country skiing. We spent evenings at concerts or plays and introduced each other to new experiences. I’m sure you can see where this story is going… we got married less than a year later.

As our lives became more involved raising our family, we had less time to play tennis together; but we did spend some time teaching the game to our children. As they got older , they became interested in other sports – gymnastics, baseball and soccer took precedence over tennis. Soon we only had time to play tennis on our vacations. We would always throw our rackets in the car or suitcase and try to squeeze a few games in while we were away from our busy routines.

Then, last year, our son became seriously interested in playing tennis as a sport. He dropped all his other games and focused on improving his racket skills. This year he has risen to the number one spot on the Junior Varsity team. My husband and I spend a minimum of two afternoons a week watching him play. The other day, as we were driving to a match, I started to laugh. I felt like I was experiencing a deja vu. Here we were,  driving in our white family SUV, heading to a tennis match just like we used to. Only this time we were going as spectators instead of players.

We are both so happy that our son has found a love for the same sport that brought us together and started our family. Regardless of how far he takes his game, tennis will be a social activity he can enjoy throughout his life. Who knows, maybe someday he will have his own story to tell about how it changed his life. It certainly changed mine. This winter we will celebrate our 20th anniversary- one that might never have come to be if I hadn’t needed a ride to a tennis match.

Chess Returns

Over the last few years, I have collected quite many family heirlooms. As the older generation downsizes and begins to whittle away its belongings, I have accepted the precious things that hold sentimental value.  (see post  https://themiddlegeneration.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/saving-family-heirlooms/ ). One such piece is a marble chess board and a well-worn  set of wooden pieces. Both have seen many years of use over several generations of my husband’s family.

When I redecorated my living room last fall to accomodate some newly-acquired heirlooms, including a grandfather clock, I decided to incorporate a dedicated chess table into the room. (see post https://themiddlegeneration.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/a-room-of-my-own-lessons-on-interior-design/ ). My handy husband built the base for the marble board and I added two antique caned chairs from my side of the family.

For months the table sat, collecting dust, and I feared it would become a catch-all for loose papers before long.

Fortunately, in the last month, my son has expressed a renewed interest in the game of chess.

Many years ago, his Papa had patiently sat with him, giving him wise advice on game strategies once he moved beyond the basics. Son has memories of playing chess with Papa, or with his Uncle- both of whom who have since passed away. They were so gentle at guiding him, suggesting he rethink a move or making light of a mistake. They didn’t intentionally let him win. Often Son judged how he was improving by how few pieces the winner had left on the board.

This was contrary to the highly competitive matches I have witnessed between Papa and Uncle or between my husband and either of them. Each player took the game seriously and would ponder the possibilities for each move for what seemed an eternity. A rematch was certainly in order every time we visited and it was a matter of pride to win.

I don’t know what has suddenly drawn my son back to chess. Either he remembers how much he once enjoyed it, or he thinks enough time has passed since he last played his Papa that the memories are no longer painful. Either way, I enjoy eavesdropping on my husband and son during their evening matches.

Husband prefers slow, deliberate moves whereas Son has little patience for considering every alternative. I know he disrupts Husband’s thought process by bursting into song while waiting for his turn. It makes me laugh to hear him singing the melody of “Oh Fortuna” when I know Husband is trying to concentrate.

Other than a few pleas for one minute longer, Husband has adapted to the twenty minute chess match. I think the pleasure of playing on his family chess set, passed down to him from his own grandfather, and being able to play his son (something his father enjoyed immensely) makes him feel like he his fulfilling a legacy and passing on a family tradition.

It is wonderful to see the two of them playing a match nearly every evening. It is a chance for them to be competitive in a healthy, productive way. All boys look up to their dads on the road to manhood, and being able to outsmart your dad in a game of chess is a notch on the totem pole.

Someday when Son is settled into his own house and is ready to continue the tradition, this family heirloom will become his. In the meantime, I am thankful that I had the vision to give this table the honor and attention it deserves and that is no longer merely an heirloom collecting dust.

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