A Mothers’ Day tribute to myself

I usually don’t have positive thoughts on Mothers’ Day- so this year I am doing something different. I am writing a tribute to myself on all the things that being a mother means to me.

* Always being there for my kids: whether it is a ride, a hug, lunch or someone to talk to, I am ready to jump into action for whatever they need.

*Unconditional love and support:  no matter what they do or say, I will always love them.

*Knowing when to give praise or express disappointment, or whether to just listen and empathize. Finding the right balance is tricky and depends on which kid and the situation. Knowing each child’s strengths, weaknesses and passions helps in these parental judgment calls.

*Being a good role model for my children: showing courtesy and politeness, responsibility, strong values and solid work ethics. By being a good citizen, I show my kids how I expect them to behave as they grow into adults. They each show these characteristics in their own ways. They may have their own beliefs and ideas, but they stick to them and work hard for them.

*Pride: like the mother lion, I can show off my cubs, even when they are grown. Their accomplishments, whether it is receiving an award or achieving a milestone, give me bragging rights to express how proud I am.

*Friend or Foe: This is the hardest part of being a mom (or dad)- how to juggle being a pal and parent at the same time. It is amazing how quickly things can get out of control and laughing can turn to yelling. It is very hard to draw the line, so I probably put myself in the “foe” category by not fully stepping into the “friend” role. Maybe friendship will happen later in life, but right now I am still the parent.

Safety Patrol: whether safety meant no running with sticks, biking with a helmet, or texting me for a ride if they were in an uncomfortable situation, I was always concerned for my children’s safety. With my daughter living the college life in Boston, I know I have lost any measure of control so I try not to think about it. At least she has the “courtesy call” down- meaning when she is travelling any great distance she will let us know when she reaches her destination. Instead, I am focusing my safety lessons on my son, who will soon qualify for his driver’s license.

*Mi Casa,es Su Casa: as a mom I always wanted my kids to feel safe and comfortable in the house. I let them freely invite friends over to hangout and kept plenty of snacks stocked for unexpected gatherings. Even as they leave the nest, I always want my kids to feel welcome to come home- hopefully not permanently, but for enough time to reinforce our love and support and keep us feeling like a family.

*Letting go: This is also part of being a parent. Realizing that I have fulfilled my duty of raising children to live independently. Hopefully they have picked up the skills through daily chores, or at least watching me do them. Thankfully, letting go happens in stages: first they take the school bus, then they learn to drive; they start with a sleepover at a friend’s’ house and then go to summer camp. By the time they are ready for college, they should have weaned themselves and feel the urge for independence. The hardest part for me is giving them that final push and encouragement to go.

However, it doesn’t matter whether they are 2 or 20 or 50, they will always be my kids and I will always have these feelings and roles as their mom. All of these emotions and traits go with the territory and make me the kind of mother that I am. Many of these were learned from my own mother (and father) and will likely be passed to the next generation. It is called family.

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Where Love and Obligation Meet

Where does one draw the boundaries between love, obligation and regret? There is a very fine line between each of them. The actions we take do not neatly fall into any one of those categories but, instead, often overlap in many tangled and complicated ways. I am writing this post in Hilton Head, where I came for a brief stay with my father and stepmother for all of these reasons.

Because I had not been able to see them over the holiday season, I had been invited several times to come visit. The first two times, I was able to justify my own busy schedule or that of my family; but when I declined for the third time because I was “too busy”, I began to feel pangs of guilt. Was there something sad I could detect in his voice? Was I neglecting my duties as a daughter? How would I feel if something happened and I never had another opportunity? Why was I so focused on my daily life that I was ignoring the long, loving history of our lives together -forgetting how important our relationship is and denying that the extra effort would be worth it?

Thankfully, my husband saw through my calm indifference and realized what was gnawing at me inside. The next day, at his insistence, I booked my flight and now, a month later, I am so glad I came. The weather was not what it should have been at this time of year. In fact, I was lucky to arrive on schedule between the ongoing parade of winter storms. The cold didn’t bother me, though. We walked between the raindrops, braved the winds on the barren beach, prepared delicious meals, talked late into the evening and celebrated by singing together at his piano just like we used to.

Despite the gloomy weather, our spirits are high!

Despite the gloomy weather, our spirits are high!

Delicious jumbo shrimp from a local fish monger!

Delicious jumbo shrimp from a local fish monger!

The evening I was supposed to leave, yet another storm threatened the east coast and my flight home was cancelled. Was it inconvenient? Yes. I had to cover my classes back home and ask my husband to deliver some necessary materials for me. But, I prefer to see this extra day as a gift from Mother Nature. The sun finally came out. The wind went away and I was able to sit outside in only my shirt sleeves. (It was the only day of my trip above 50.)

Notice the temp! It is the highest one of the whole week.

Notice the temp! It is the highest one of the whole week.

Finally it's sunny enough to need my glasses.

Finally it’s sunny enough to need my glasses.

The warm weather also brought out the fog, but at least it wasn't windy.

The warm weather also brought out the fog, but at least it wasn’t windy.

My stepmom and I got to enjoy an hour or so at the beach, breathing in the salt air and moving our bodies after being stuck inside. Tonight we are going out for dinner and will watch the sunset.

This Heron let us watch the sunset alongside him.

This Heron let us watch the sunset alongside him.

This trip has been a special way to reaffirm our bond and create new memories. I am thankful for the wonderful time we had together- whether for love or out of obligation- and I have no regrets.

A perfect way to end a memorable trip.

A perfect way to end a memorable trip.

Daughterly Advice

Last week I got a phone call from my father. He had recently installed an electric fence to keep his dog from running out onto the golf course. Even though they had followed the training protocol by posting flags around the property for a time before turning on the power, Buster had already been shocked twice when chasing squirrels. Dad was very distressed because now the dog did not like to go outside. We would never dream of shocking our children to teach them lessons (maybe we would like to, but we know it would be wrong) so why do we train our dogs this way?

The main reason is because children can understand concepts of danger- getting lost, or hit by a car if they stray into the road. Dogs need to learn about danger differently. It may sound cruel to let them get shocked for crossing a boundary, but it is better than letting them get injured. Most dogs will learn quickly from this experience and then will be perfectly fine staying in their yard. My father is one of the kindest people I know.  I could tell from his voice that he really felt terrible that Buster had gotten shocked, as if it was a horrible life-altering experience.  I knew Dad needed coaxing more than his dog did.

I tried to give him calm support and reassurance. My own dogs have been trained, with only a few corrections. They still love chasing squirrels in the yard, but they know when to stop. I have peace of mind in knowing I don’t have to walk outside with them in the rain or snow. I told my father to stick with the training, persuading him that it probably wouldn’t happen more than a couple of times; Buster is very intelligent. I also suggested that my father bring out treats for his dog and feed them to him in the yard. This could erase his negative association of being outside and Dad could use the treats to call his dog back from the flagged area as part of the training.

At the end of our phone call, I could tell that Dad was still worried but was at least more optimistic about the outcome. I am happy to report that within a week, Buster is a well-trained dog and is quite happy to search for bones in his yard, rather than pursue squirrels onto the golf course.  As for Dad, he is much happier too, knowing his dog is not going to run down the fairway chasing golfers. And for me, when I think back to all the times I have turned to Dad for advice and support, I am glad that I was able to return the favor.

My Father’s Books in the Age of Tech

Over the last twenty years, my father has moved several times and across many states; but he has always held onto the things he held dear. Yesterday I visited my father’s house and he took me down to his basement. We looked at some of the things he had accumulated, family heirlooms and all. But the thing that stood out the most was the shelves he had arranged with his collections of old, hardcover books: The Hardy Boys series, novels by Jules Verne, L.Frank Baum and a collection of Grimms Fairy tales.

Many of these books had been bought during the 1940’s, on the heels of WWII and in the days of penny-pinching. As a boy, he had a paper route from which he diligently saved his earnings and used them to purchase his favorite books and Classic Comics. In the evenings, when his chores and homework were done, he would crawl into bed and read these stories over and over.

When he became a father, he gathered his treasured collection and tried to introduce them to his children. I read some of them, but I preferred Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys. I also fell in love with Laura Ingalls Wilder and soon began putting my allowance into paperbacks of her series. The one thing he did instill in me was a love of reading and the feel of a good book in your hands.

Now he has 6 grand children and it is a different time. There are so many ways for kids to get entertainment these days: computer games, internet, television, videos- and these modes seem so more interesting to them than old fashioned books. Yesterday he and I sadly looked at his beautiful collection, arranged by size, color, author and he asked me if I thought my children would be interested in them. I think he was expecting the answer I gave him, that even if the subject of the book caught their interest, they would prefer to read it in paper back or on an eReader.

I guess that means it is time for me to get rid of my Little House on the Prairie collection. Why is it so hard to let these things go?