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.

Mother’s Day Regret

If there was ever a holiday that was set up to make people feel badly, it is Mother’s Day. With the incessant commercials and advertisements running on tv, the internet and the papers, we are all being brain-washed to expect or feel obligated to celebrate a day created by retailers. When I was growing up, we disdainfully called this a “Hallmark holiday”.

I’ve tried repeatedly to remind myself of this fact. Instead, I remember the precious spontaneous moments when my child made a Freudian slip and said “love you”; or thanked me for staying home to care for him when he was sick. However, at this time every year, the lilac bush- which my children once gave me as a mother’s day gift simply because they knew how pleased I would be- bears the fragrant yet bittersweet reminders of a time when they were young enough to fall under the spell of motherly love.

Mothers Day 7137

Now it seems they do everything possible to break the mold:  by either completely ignoring the day or blatantly offering favors or expressions of love to their dad, instead of me, on mother’s day. It is enough to break my composure and bring a few tears to my eye. Why should I feel so badly, I tell myself, because they choose to make a political statement (similar to the one my sisters and I launched on the company that shared our family name)? Why does it feel like a personal attack?

To  hide my feelings of disappointment I do the opposite. I go online and email a gift to my own mother- even though I know she agrees with me on the principle and we exchanged our own expressions of love and appreciation yesterday (and at least once a week throughout the year). I try to sit with my husband, who is taking a break from mowing the lawn to watch some golf. Unfortunately every break is loaded with sappy commercials and then, to make matters worse, a sob story about the mother of one of the golfers comes on. It is too much to take. I flee the house, hop on my bike and try to escape it all- even for a few minutes.

Now my husband has run out to the store to buy groceries for dinner. I almost wish he wouldn’t. At this point, I no longer think it is his responsibility to serve me on mother’s day. It should be between me and my children. If they have somehow managed to escape the song of the Sirens, I should be thankful for their strength to withstand the commercialization of an absurd idea- that there is only one mother’s day…

Mothers Day 7137

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.

More on Books and Technology: A Conflict of Interest?

Last month I wrote about the shift in entertainment interests of children, away from books* to video games or apps. I also touched on the immediate gratification of streaming movies**, rather than waiting for them to be aired on tv. So here is a follow up based on those two posts.

At one time, my son was a big Harry Potter fan. He would stay awake past his bedtime, reading the latest book under the covers, eager to discover what would become of Harry or Dumbledore. Once that series came to an end, he tried reading other books in a similar genre. These interested him for a while, but within a year he no longer wanted to read. I am not sure what was the cause – the pressure to read at school, the distractions of video games, or the inability to choose a captivating book; but no matter what my efforts were to encourage him, he would only read when it was mandatory.

As all parents know, we are supposed to limit our children’s screen time (tv, computer, video games) but with so many options, it is a challenge and unless we are willing to battle over the principle, we often lose. The latest electronic device is the Ipad2, which my son got for his birthday. He uses it alot- for doing research, as well as playing games, talking with friends and listening to music. All of these uses allow him to get what he wants when he wants it. I tried to slow him down and stretch his patience by asking him to wait before buying things, but the result is that he has stopped asking my permission to do so.

The other day he approached me asking for help to locate a book at the library. I was so eager to see him read that I immediately got on the computer to look it up. The book he wanted was an autobiography, which I thought was unusual. It was by Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, the same one about whom Bob Dylan had written his ballad, and of which my son knew all the lyrics. We discovered the library copies were checked out and decided to look for it at a book store online. If it was available, I could pick it up for him tomorrow, only a short wait. But then he told me his report was due next week and he really needed it sooner. So much for trying to hold him off.

I have a Kindle so I offered to download it onto my device for him. I looked it up on the Kindle site and then figured out we could download it onto his Ipad using a Kindle app. Within 2 minutes, the book had been purchased, transferred to his ipad and he was laying on the couch reading it. The entire process took less than 20 minutes since he had made his initial request.

It certainly seems like a conflict of interest to me- trying to teach patience but buying something over the ethernet, wanting to limit time spent on electronics yet encouraging him to read on one. I want to tear my hair out! The use of this at bedtime can be even more clandestine than the good old flashlight trick. Where do we draw the line?

This new technology certainly presents a hoard of parenting challenges, but on the bright side, he is reading this autobiography and excitedly reporting what he has learned after every section. That is a side of him I haven’t seen in several years. I did ask him whether he liked the book because of the format, and he immediately countered that it was the actual story that was interesting. Maybe I shouldn’t give up on paperbacks yet…

*My Father’s Books in the Age of Tech   posted 9/23/11

**Cancelling Netflix: A Lesson for my Kids  posted 9/20/11