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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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.

Keeping Track of Ma

As part of their steps toward independence, when my kids began middle school we bought a family plan and gave them cell phones.  If my son was out wandering the neighborhood with his buddies, I could call him home for dinner. When my daughter was shopping at the mall, she could let me know which store she was in. On days either of them decided to stay after school, they could text me so I wouldn’t worry when they didn’t get off the bus. Once I  received a call from my son for a minor bike accident. He had been trail riding and banged up his bike. He was okay but his frame was bent and he needed me to pick him up. Overall, the plan has been a good investment.  I have the peace of mind in knowing where my kids are and they have been good about checking in.

When I was growing up, my parents insisted on checking in. They called it “Courtesy”. To this day, whenever any of my family (sisters or parents) is travelling, we remember to let each other know we have returned home safely. Now, instead of placing a call, we simply send a text message [smooth trip. back home.xoxo] With her new iPhone, Mom has really gotten into texting. She is in charge of relaying messages from other family members [Heard from ____.  All good] Anyway, the point is we all look out for each other and like to get our “courtesy”.

These days, I am not focusing so much on the kids as on my mother-in-law. Ma was widowed just over a year ago. After 56 years of marriage, she is slowly adjusting to life on her own. She has always been very independent, but now that she is alone we are trying to keep in closer touch. She likes to know where we are so now we are re-conditioning her to extend a “courtesy” to us. This has not been easy since she has never felt accountable before;  it is not her instinct to check in with us, since we are the children. She loves to travel and we are happy that she is comfortable doing so. We have convinced her to send us her itineraries and let us know when she arrives at her destination.

We have worked out a reasonable plan which includes a courtesy call, with updates during extended trips. Because we have her contact information if we need to reach her, we are not letting ourselves worry.  We just hope she is having fun and expect to hear all about her adventures when she returns home. This has been a big adjustment and the role reversal is actually humorous. Some days I joke with her that it is like keeping track of another teenager, one who has just graduated and moved out. Enjoy your independence, Ma, but always remember to do your “courtesy”. I am sure I will be saying the same thing to my kids in a few years.