Donning My Mom Genes


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I’m convinced I was born without the “mom gene.” My hypothesis is confirmed repeatedly whenever I am engaged in activities with my kids. For starters, I’ve never been one of those moms who comes prepared with Mary Poppins’ purse filled with everything but the kitchen sink. Instead, I’m the mom who shows up at a sporting event forgetting to bring sunscreen, snacks or drinks. Yep, you know who I am. I’m the one who lets my kids leave the house in the spring or fall without a sweatshirt and you see them shivering in the fetal position under my jacket as they sit on the sidelines or are at a gathering with friends. I’m also the mom whose eyes start rolling towards the back of her head when around other moms as they talk about recipes and sure-fire remedies for sore throats, poison ivy or engage in the popular topic of identifying lice. My brain cannot process information and I quickly fade away, taking cover in a safe mental space where children do not exist.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my kids tremendously and could not possibly be more grateful that I was blessed with my two boys. However, I have had to learn to accept that I did all this while suffering from a significant deficiency. Without question, I am typically an epic failure when it comes to the hard-core mom stuff. Sure, I can clip nails (although one of my early attempts landed my then 5-month old firstborn in the ER for stitches), clean wax out of the ears and dispense medicine. I have a first aid kit to tend to minor scrapes and cuts and can navigate my way around Neosporin. But, that’s all folks. That’s the end of the road. I don’t cook meals, I loathe the field trips and I am doomed if left to create a costume. Halloween gives me hives.

Over the years, after packing for more than my share of guilt trips, I have come to accept my lack of mad mom skills and have tried to stop beating myself up. Every trip to the playground used to leave me penitent when the other moms would pull ziplock bags out of their designer diaper bags filled with pretzels or goldfish crackers. I’ve now moved beyond the shame of each and every time I needed to borrow a wipe or a bandaid when one of my children skinned a knee or had ice cream dripping down their face, shirt, hands and legs. It was a quickly learned lesson that I would just never be that person. I’m not that mom. And, frankly, I am in awe of those women who can pull a stick of gum, a tissue, a tweezer or an assortment of other devices out of their bag and turn themselves into MacGyver. I just watch in wonder.

Of course, this does leave me with just a wee bit of insecurity. I can’t help but wonder if I’m not that mom, then what kind of mom am I? Am I just the one who spends all her time working and has missed out on all the milestones and accomplishments? How many more times will I rely upon Facebook to see photos of concerts, field trips or games? I’ve battled these questions for the past 14 years and cringe every time I hear another parent say when they meet me for the first time: “Oh, you’re _____’s mom!!  I wondered if he had one…” Really?

When my children were born, I didn’t really give much thought to what kind of mother I would be. The excitement of my first born’s arrival was surely coupled with typical first-parent worries but I simply assumed I would figure it out. I wasn’t the expectant mom with a birth plan (just get him out as painlessly as possible was my mantra) and I never wrote a manifesto for myself outlining the type of parent – or more specifically, the type of mom – I wanted to be. My main objective was always very clear – to love my kids and send them out into the world feeling confident and secure. If I was being truly honest with myself, I couldn’t guarantee that I had much more than that to offer. I had no real mommy role models because my own mother was deficient in her own ways and all the other moms I knew were glorified from afar and I didn’t get to see the true inner workings of how they pulled off what they did. I was never even sure that all those moms who were ever-present and running the PTA were, in fact, the best moms. The true test, of course, was how their kids turned out in the end and how the kids felt about their moms when all was said and done. Ultimately, while I hated when my own mother said this, I now know she was spot on  – you do the best that you can.

I joke about my obvious shortcomings with friends and they kindly remind me of all the good things I do for my kids. I talk with more seasoned moms who have seen the fruits of their labors with grown children and they reassure me that my children will be ok. And, there is no doubt for me that I am an incredibly loving and supportive parent and play a critical role in my sons’ lives. I just don’t fit the traditional Carol Brady or Harriet Nelson or whomever the most current ideal mom role model is. I don’t fit into any of those archetypes. Someone recently made a comment to me that my children follow the course I set for them and I thought long and hard about that because it seems unreal to me that I have set any course. Every morning I wake up and feel like I am winging in. I have no idea where the day will take me when it comes to my kids and I hope and I pray that I will have the right answers and the wisdom to guide them as they blaze their own trails. I have never dictated (nor has my husband) their journeys and have only encouraged the interests they have demonstrated a passion for. We set ground rules for behavior and have laid out our expectations as it relates to respect, hard work and honesty but, beyond that, the road has always been theirs to explore. I have loved my children with every ounce of my being and remind them frequently how much they are loved and supported. And I also remind them that if the requisite ingredients are not in the house, I might not be able to procure cookies, cupcakes or a last-minute cake. I simply don’t have those skills. I have taught them about responsibility and how to respect women. My very existence is evidence of what is possible for women who seek fulfillment both professionally and personally.

My sons are now a teenager and a tween and neither of them think those mad MacGyver skills are all that necessary any longer. My ability to drive and withdraw cash from my bank account ensure my superhero status in their lives. After all, my younger son proclaimed that MOM stands for Made Of Money. For me, however, I am still working on my cloak of invisibility during those recipe swap, illness remedy and homework discussions. I long for a day when I can feel equally proud of missing those games (because of what amazing things I might be doing when I am not there) as I feel when I manage to whip up a batch of brownies without having to make three trips to the grocery store. A girl can dream…

Becoming a Mother


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“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”
― Donna Ball, At Home on Ladybug Farm

It’s been nearly 15 years since my first child burst from my loins. I believed, at that moment, at 6:48am on October 25, 2000, I was officially a mother. I had passed through the hallowed hallways into the secret passageway, through the magical door. I knew the password, had the special knock memorized and was allowed entry into this strange and foreign place. Foolishly, I believed, that 9 months of pregnancy, gallons of water retention, stretch marks, hemorrhoids, 15 hours of labor and an emergency c-section were the rites of passage required to officially the don the label of MOTHER.

I was young. I was drugged. I was naive. I was foolish. When they handed my first born child to me (after I awoke from my sedated state that mercifully was provided after not quite enough epidural and far too much pain during that sudden cesarean), I was madly in love. Never before had I experienced such pure and endless love. I had heard that some women instantly fall in love with their babies and I feared for months that I would be one of the mothers who stared into their child’s eyes but would not be able to summon that magical adoration. Thankfully, I fell into my baby’s trance and I was consumed with emotion, sobbing when they presented to him in the delivery room (probably a combination of delirium and exhaustion, at that point) and then stared endlessly at him once we were transported to our private sanctuary in the maternity ward. I didn’t want to put him down or let him go. My eyes were fixed on his tiny body, studying every element of his being and trying to connect his pieces to my own. I studied his face looking for my DNA, making sure that, in fact, this precious gem was actually mine to keep. It seemed almost too good to be true. How could I have been so fortunate to have been given this incredible gift? What had I done so right to be granted this state of euphoria that chemically could never be replicated? The world around us stopped and, for the 3 1/2 days that we were nestled away in my hospital bed, working through our introductions and getting all the formalities out of the way (he refused to breast feed; I had no idea how to handle that mutilated little penis; I feared I would break him by pulling his legs up too hard when I changed his diapers) it was all about us and falling in love. It was our own special honeymoon where we were waited on hand and foot and, occasionally, I would allow others to breathe in the special tonic that was created uniquely for me.

I went through the whole process again three years later and, while there was a little less drama in the delivery, the outcome was just the same. The second boy was a bit more accommodating and latched on immediately. He had me wrapped around his tiny, chubby little finger from his first howl. Unlike his older sibling, he acquiesced, nuzzling me and seemingly attempting to climb back into the womb until he was about 8 or 9 years old. He could not get close enough to his mama. Through all of this, despite how much I adored my boys and regardless of my commitment to love and support them through the days of their lives, I became increasingly aware that motherhood is not a one-step process. There is not a doorway that you pass through and, upon entry, you earn your stripes. Motherhood is a long, harrowing process that requires continued focus, passion and effort in order to achieve any level of mastery. You will be required to take tests, be re-certified (on a fairly regular basis) and, just when you think you have cracked the code, you will be reminded that you have not even scratched the surface of what you need to learn.

I never really wanted to be a mother. It was not on my bucket list of endeavors. Frankly, I never thought much about it one way or the other. I was far more focused on the elements of my life that I could grasp – education, career, maybe love. If it was not in my line of sight, it was really not on my mind. But then, after several years of marriage, that proverbial biological clock started to tick so loudly that it was deafening. Suddenly, everywhere I turned, my friends were having babies.  And I would hold these babies and feel this warmth wash over me and I was left feeling empty when I had to return these bundles of joy to their respective mothers. I started finding myself envious of my exhausted and disheveled friends while I sat put-together and carefree. I was no longer interested in my easy life of going to work, going out to dinner, hopping in the car for a weekend getaway or vacations that required a few pairs of underwear (or maybe none at all!). There was no longer a question or debate about whether or not I wanted to have children. Now the conversation turned to when we would start a family. I feared, rightfully so, that I would have trouble conceiving and, I suppose, I might have been avoiding the hard truth by not seriously beginning my effort to become pregnant. Alas, after lots of intervention and a medical device resembling a turkey baster, baby number one arrived – despite the doctor’s admonitions that I should not get my hopes up for a pregnancy the first time around. Ha! He had no idea what an overachiever I am! Pregnancy number two was easy and came way faster than we had expected and ended far more horribly than we could have imagined. 5 weeks along, something was very wrong. My doctors assumed it was a miscarriage but I was certain it was worse. The pain was intolerable. Two emergency room visits later and I was in emergency surgery to deal with a ruptured fallopian tube that left me with just one that was blocked by scar tissue from the cesarean. I left the hospital a day later bewildered and depressed. No second baby and even more infertility. It was time to take this effort to the next level and so began the injections and every other day visits to the fertility clinic. We had thirteen fertilized embryos and two of them were gingerly placed into my uterus, in hopes that one (just one, please) would be welcomed into our world 9 months later. Laser focused on my goal, I was fortunate enough to see one little heartbeat 8 weeks later. Before we got the news that we had successfully conceived our second child, we had to make the decision whether or not we wanted to freeze the 11 remaining embryos as an insurance policy (or for our future family expansion). We were pretty confident that we were set with the two kids and, frankly, we were out of money. We had spent a fortune on the drugs and treatments and simply couldn’t bear another cent – and the cryogenics were not cheap. We rolled the dice and were blessed with our little test tube boy.

This morning, I sat with my husband and my two boys – who are now a long way from those pink 8 lb. bundles that I swaddled so tenderly so many years ago – and thought about the gift that I was given in the form of both of my children. They are each so different from the other and, yet, they are a perfect combination of my husband and me. Their wit and their determination are decidedly mine (although my husband will say the humor is all him). They are boys that I am proud of and, when I think about why I wanted to have children, it is for moments like today when I can look at their now adolescent faces and feel the sheer amazement that these people are a pure part of me. I work hard to be a good mother to my children and make every effort to create an environment for them to feel loved and secure. And, I set boundaries that are difficult and continue to grow as I make one mistake after another. I don’t compare myself to other mothers because that is a foolish endeavor. We are all different but we share one commonality. We all have that secret handshake knowing that we love our children more than ourselves. We would die for them. Regardless of how old they are or how difficult they might be, whether their skin is covered in acne or their hair has started to grey, we still see those tiny faces, all pink and chubby, and we remember that they are a part of us. And even for those whose children came to them from other mothers, that moment when your child becomes yours or calls you “mommy” or holds your hand or hugs you tight, you are whisked away to the island of motherhood. It is the hardest job we will ever have – one where there is no proper training to provide you with the skills you will need – and it is the most rewarding and gratifying experience you will ever have. No matter how difficult my life gets, no matter how many bumps I need to endure, my children always ground me and help me find reality. For, because of them, I am in a constant state of growth and evolution and will continue to strive to be a better person. I am a mother and, therefore, I am blessed.

IMG_0075tom and matt sleeping at hotel

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DUALITY


duality“I walk on for a while and reach a round sort of clearing. Surrounded by tall trees, it looks like the bottom of a gigantic well. Sunlight shoots down through the branches like a spotlight illuminating the grounds at my feet. The place feels special, somehow. I sit down in the sunlight and let the faint warmth wash over me, taking out a chocolate bar from my pocket and enjoying the sweet taste. Realizing all over again how important sunlight is to human beings, I appreciate each second of that precious light. The intense loneliness and helplessness I felt under those millions of stars has vanished. But as time passes, the sun’s angle shifts and light disappears. I stand up and retrace the path back to the cabin.”  – Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

After spending nearly half a century in this life, I still marvel at the duality that occurs before me each and every day. The darkness that gives way to light, the silver linings that provide a sugar coating to even the most acerbic morsels. It is the yin and yang that provides some sort of karmic balance to life – the rushing in and recession of the tides, the endings that lead to beginnings balancing out the beginnings that ungratefully lead to endings.

And, while I know this duality appears before me daily, it is only on rare occasions that I stop to take notice. It is like a gentle tap on my shoulder reminding me to pay attention, letting me know that an important plot point is about to revealed. A gentle nudge as I doze off in the classroom that is my life, reminding me to take note for this will be on the final exam. This week, I was jolted awake as I sat on an airplane heading out on yet another journey. As I leaned back in my seat, closing my eyes to rest for a few moments as I normally do when the plane is racing down the runway, pushing the engines to launch the giant tin can into the air, I was reminded of the significance of the day. That day was my mother’s birthday. My mother, who has been dead for 2 years now.  Or, is it 3? I have lost count.  I could probably stop for a moment and try to remember if it was 2012 or 2013 when she finally departed but the time elapsed is meaningless. For, I did not mark the months with remembrances. I did not light a candle each year. I did not grieve as so many of my friends have, deeply mourning the loss of their beloved moms. Their supporters, their nurturers, the presidents of their fan clubs, their best friends. I don’t recall exactly which day she died and I was not there with her when she took her last breath. I did not go through the rite of passage that children are meant to experience when their parents take their journey to next life. I did not hold her hand or stroke her brow, reminding her how much I loved her or how we would all go on without her, missing her every day and feeling the void of her presence. I have no idea what the end of my mother’s life was like. I don’t know what she looked like, I don’t know if she suffered or passed with ease, relieved to have unburdened herself of the weight that she carried so deeply inside her. I don’t know if anyone stood by her side or if she drifted off alone and bewildered. And, frankly, I don’t care.

My mother’s birthday is also the day my oldest son was conceived. I know this because he was conceived at a fertility clinic. I remember the day, back in 2000, when I lay in the darkened room, after having been inseminated turkey-baster style, laying with my knees in the air for the suggested 30 minutes in hope that just one of my husband’s sperm would find its way to my lone egg that sat alone, hoping for some attention. Despite the efforts to pump up my hormones that would generate many follicles from which many eggs would spring, I produced one and my doctors, in their reassuring way, left me with the optimistic hope of “there’s always next month.” But, always the overachiever, I would not fail. I was confident that my solitary egg would find its partner and we would produce a healthy bundle of joy. And we did. And it all began on my mother’s birthday.

My mother died just days before her birthday. She never was honest about what year she was born so I suspect she was around 82 or 83 or 84, or something like that, when she died.  I can’t remember the last birthday I celebrated with her but it was a long time before her departure. My mother left me emotionally and spiritually long before her body ceased to function. My mother forced me to remove her from my life to finally escape a lifetime of mental and emotional abuse. I believed that the day I shut that door for the last time, even though I may not have realized it had been closed for good, that I was releasing the toxins from my body. It felt like the beginning of the journey to recovery and that I was providing myself with the space and freedom to explore my pain and heal myself. I don’t remember how many years ago that was anymore. I try not to think about it. I suppose, as survivors, we are supposed to have psychic calendar notations that are engraved in our minds but, for me – someone who memorializes everything – these dates are fuzzy. The ink has bled and I can no longer make out the dates or the numbers. I simply don’t want to mark the passing of time. I guess I just don’t want to preserve them with the same significance as I do the milestones of my or my children’s lives. I want them to be erased over time. I want them to cease to exist. Perhaps this way it might all be less real.

It is not at all ironic to me that my motherhood began on my mother’s birthday. In fact, it is symbolically appropriate. It is the duality of my life. The beginning of this new chapter, the creation of my first child, was the denouncement of my victimization by my mother. It made sense. I would never forget the day and the two would be inextricably intertwined. Because they are and they should be. While my own mother tortured me, motherhood freed me. Motherhood saved me from my mother. Motherhood, over time, reaffirmed what, deep inside, I always knew to be true. Children are not supposed to be treated the way I was. I deserved to be loved and nurtured and cared for and respected and adored and cherished and encouraged to reach my full potential. I was not meant to be demeaned and demoralized and undermined and sideswiped and beaten and marginalized and penalized and tormented and hurt. I needed to see for myself that the natural order of things was that parents love their children – no matter what. I had to experience, first hand, that it is not a natural occurrence that, with frustration and anxiety, comes abuse. I could not survive unless I realized that I would not be the monster that I experienced my own mother to be. And my son, conceived on that cold day in February in Millburn, NJ, the same day my mother enjoyed another spin around the sun, and then my other son just three short years later, liberated me from the fear that I could never break the cycle of abuse and that perhaps, in fact, I deserved just what I got.

After my flight that morning was reaching cruising altitude, I opened my eyes and took a deep breath.  The realization that today was that day, the mother of all dualities, I stopped thinking and decided to turn on my iPad an enjoy the remainder of my short flight listening to an audiobook. I had been waiting to listen to Not My Father’s Son by one of my favorite actors, Alan Cumming. There had been a resistance in me to start the book because I knew enough about the story to feel a sense of dread. Alan was telling his own story of abuse. He was sharing the outcomes of his journey towards healing and, without question, I knew I would experience disruption and dismay. But, today, it made sense. Today was the day that I needed to take this on. Sometimes you just know. It seemed fitting.

February is now this odd month for me. As a child, I worshipped my mother. I would lay by her feet and love on her endlessly. I would spend my weekends sitting in our kitchen, in our little row house in Queens, playing Rummy 500 with her. She never let me win but I didn’t care. I treasured those hours because she was peaceful and we were together, far away from the yelling and screaming, the hitting, the painful words, the outbursts, the overdosing. Those afternoons were quiet and calm and predictable and reassuring, filled with hope that my mommy really loved me and would soon stop being so angry with me. Every year I waited with anticipation for her birthday because I wanted to shower her with cards and gifts to show her how much I loved her. I felt certain that if I made her feel special that she would reciprocate, returning my affection with kindness of her own. But, just two days after her birthday was my parents’ wedding anniversary – a day that ultimately left my mother filled with sadness after she and my father divorced. It was a constant reminder to her of failure and loss and it often overshadowed the joyousness of her special day. And, like a sponge, I absorbed her duality and struggled to balance her yin and yang. I adopted her pain as my own. And February became a month of quiet conflict. Atop the normal mountain of malaise that many of experience in the period that lay between the holidays and the first chirpy songs of birds signifying the onset of spring, I navigated my own way through the murky waters of my mother’s disdain and disappointment. I fought her battle. And she never shielded me from the shrapnel that pierced my skin after each and every explosion.

I finished the book before I landed on my return flight home the following night. I couldn’t stop listening.  In the gym, I lost myself in his story, so different in his homeland of Scotland than mine in New York, far across the pond. Yet, his words resonated with me. I felt the pain as he shared every blow he endured from his father who battled his own demons, releasing onto his children the pain that he could not process. On the plane ride home, I stared out the window, holding back deep sobs as I listened to him recount his indignities, recognizing, perhaps for the first time, that I was not alone. Hearing him describe his deep wounds, I instinctively felt my own scars and they nearly ripped apart, revealing the gaping holes that still lie opened inside of me.

The duality this week began benignly – almost with a hint of joy. The reminder of that day I sat in the darkened room filled me with joy. Seemingly a lifetime ago before I understood the restorative power that motherhood would offer me. Before I laid eyes on the beautiful boy who would grow into a tall, handsome young adult, all attitude and confidence and humor mixed with the expected level of obnoxiousness we have come to expect from teenagers. Before I understood that I was not meant to live inside a prison forever and would be set free to experience the euphoria of unconditional love towards and from my own children. As a child who grew up feeling alone and out-of-place, never truly belonging to a family or having an assigned seat at the table, the luxuriousness of looking at my children and knowing they were mine and I was theirs – that we were a family, with bonds that need not be broken – cascaded me into a sense of peace and serenity that never seemed a reality when looking at my life from the other side. The counterbalance of that day – the marking of my mother’s birthday also seemed benign as I have healed so many wounds and have forgiven her for all that she took from me and all that pain she bestowed upon me that was never meant to be mine. Yet, unbeknownst to me, this year, the duality would be marked differently. There are no coincidences and no accidents. Life takes us places that we sometimes don’t want to go and forces us, often begrudgingly, to accept those things we would rather ignore or reject. The duality for me this year was not the lightness and dark or the beginning and end. This year, the duality was the denial and acceptance.

I have accepted so much about the pain I have endured in my life and I have learned to nurture myself in replacement. Through no choice of my own, I became extremely proficient at tending to my needs and ensuring that I was able to move from one day to the next, as best I possibly could. I learned, regrettably, that I would have to care for myself because there was not going to be anyone else around who would take on that responsibility. For as far back as my memory will allow me to go, it has been me – all alone in the world – navigating the pathways and hoping for a positive outcome. That, in itself, has its own duality for it has made me strong and it has caused weakness in my foundation. I am closed and withdrawn at times, protective and defensive, fearful of intimacy that might cause me to drop my guard and stop protecting my fortress of solitude. And I have resilience and strength and power that allows me to sit on the front lines, sipping a cocktail and awaiting the next round of fire with ease and assurance that my line is protected. Yet, while I have accepted my fate and processed through the pain and disappointment of never having had the opportunity to be loved in a way that was my birthright, I have also spent a great deal of my life in denial. I struggle to accept how deep my wounds are, how painful the burn is, how limiting my existence can be. I force myself to look away when I am confronted with the loneliness and alienation and abandonment that resulted from ongoing and erosive abuse. Being told I am worthless and not a good enough person to be loved again and again finally sinks into your cells and it becomes part of your hard-wiring that no amount of therapy or medication or restorative affection can ever heal. Never having felt the safety and security that allows a child to mature into adulthood and endure the obstacles that are assuredly blocking your path with dignity and grace, creates a perpetuating stream of anxiety and self-loathing that requires a virtual exorcism to eradicate. One that I have yet to perform. By the end of that flight, after the last word was read and I was left to ponder my own experience, I knew, of course, the timing was pre-determined and the context was appropriately set. The scabs needed to be ripped off and I was meant to be catapulted back into space. It was time to embark on the next leg of this mission.

I am alone and I am frightened and, at the same time, I am secure in my ability to navigate my course. I hope that there is a day, some day in February in some year before me that I will look back and remember the day that I started to stop feeling so isolated and solitary and overwhelmed and insecure. And, I know that it may never be that way. For it is, perhaps, my destiny to live this life and endure these struggles for a purpose far greater than I will ever know. And the duality of my life is to enjoy the beauty that lies right beside the pain.

DISBELIEF


dont believe in santaLast night at dinner, my younger son who is nearly two weeks away from turning 9, declared, in his usual snide and sarcastic way that he no longer believes in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny (and likely other mythical creatures that he could not remember to rattle off at that moment).  My husband and 12-year old son took great joy in this proclamation while I sat, head hung low, realizing that yet another milestone had been crossed in my child’s life journey.  One that, with him being my baby, I certainly was not ready for.

“Who do you think brings all those presents every year?” I asked defiantly.  I was determined to disprove this and console myself that there was still a faint glimpse of fairy dust floating around in his brain.

He smiled so wide that his eyes were squinting and he tried mightily to hold back the giggles.  “Um, uh, I don’t know,”  he stammered, surely seeing in my eyes that I simply wanted some evidence that he was not growing up rapidly right before my eyes.  “Just kidding!  I believe!  Of course it’s Santa!”  He laughed through the words and I knew he was just humoring me, understanding on some level of my irrational maternal need to keep my child young and innocent.  Or, just maybe, there was still some wonder in his mind as to whether or not that chubby, red-suited, bearded fellow shoved himself down our narrow chimney each Christmas eve.  Yeah, not likely.

“Who do you think eats the cookies and drinks the milk we leave out?” I jabbed back at him.  He grinned again, realizing that his mommy was not about to give up the good fight.  “Well, maybe it’s Buddy!” He was assigning blame to our beloved dog who steals food off his plate every morning as he dawdles through breakfast not swallowing up his english muffin or waffles fast enough while the dog stands guard waiting, hoping for a merciful bite.  “But,” he sighed dramatically.  “It probably is Santa!  Don’t worry, I believe!”

He went on to share, however, that he did witness, one Easter eve, as he mistakenly wandered into the kitchen after bedtime, two baskets and some candy laying out on the table.  “I know Daddy was making those baskets up for us.”  And when I challenged him further on the Tooth Fairy, my beloved husband could not resist but to sarcastically point out that my son invariably ends up with the exact same amount of cash that resides in my wallet each time he safely and securely tucks his newly displaced tooth under his pillow.  Both my children laughed hysterically at his comment and I knew, right there, that the jig was up.  I wondered, however, why my young son still carried on, with such painstaking effort, the rituals that we had taught and replayed time and again with the Tooth Fairy or with Santa or the myriad other false icons that we suggested brought magic into our home.  Why was it that, just last week, he spent five minutes finding the perfect spot to place his tooth so that the “Tooth Fairy” would find it?  Did he realize it was me sneaking into his room, after he had fallen asleep (and before I had fallen off and forgotten to replace his tooth with the required cash that lay waiting in my wallet) and wanted to ensure I had an easy extraction of the tooth so as not to have to move his head around too much and risk waking and blowing my cover?  Was he, in fact, carrying on this tradition to make me feel better to ensure that his position as mommy’s baby and devoted child was not tarnished as he watched me struggle through the transition to having a teenage son with his older brother?  Was he that masterful?

Knowing him, perhaps.

Quite simply, his superpowers of being a child who wants to protect his mother’s innocence may very well have trumped my efforts to be a mother who wants to protect her child’s innocence.

This morning, as I was dropping my kids off at school, I was reflecting on the conversation from last night and the subsequent conversations I had with my younger son trying mercifully to break him down and find out what he really believed.  I realized that, right there, at the dinner table last night, we took a giant step forward.  We moved from being a family with young children with whom we had to devise elaborate fantasies to protect from the truthful realities of grown-up life to a family with nearly adolescents who were beginning to understand the ways of the world.  They had vocabularies that explained their feelings and ours in ways that surprised me on a regular basis.  They had developed a sophistication that I equally loved and dreaded.  They were growing up.  While I relish the fact that my older son still asks me on a nightly basis to tuck him in (despite the fact that the request comes from a voice that is getting lower and lower each night), I realize that in four years he will be getting his learner’s permit and the next big declaration – if I am lucky enough to be clued in – might be that he has kissed a girl or, heaven forbid, that he has had sex.  We are entering a new frontier, friends and I am hanging on by my fingernails to the old one.

Several nights ago, before my younger son burst my bubble, he and I were in my bedroom reading and having our nightly chit chat.  “Mommy, this is my favorite time of the day,” he casually mentioned in between sharing stories of the other kids in his third grade class.  “I hope we do this always.”

Me too, pal.

MOTHER OF THE YEAR…NOT


When I had my first child more than a decade ago, I did not give much thought to the challenges of being a working mom.  I actually looked forward to going back to work when my maternity leave was up.  I dropped my 3 month-old son off at daycare, in the caring hands of very sweet and loving women, and did not look back.  In the days and weeks following my return to work, many other mothers asked me how I was handling the transition and wanted to know how many times I had called the daycare to check on my son or how frequently I was crying.  I look at them quizzically.

No tears.

No calls.

Was there something wrong with me?  While I adored my new little precious baby, I was kind of enjoying my return to my pre-baby life and was getting on with the business of being a working mother.

After my second son was born three years later, I landed my dream job at Working Mother magazine.  I had been a huge fan of the magazine even before my kids were born and I was excited to work in an environment that was focused on and committed to working moms.  Shortly after I joined the company, my boss and I were driving to see a client and she was sharing with me one of the many ironies of parenthood.  She told me of her challenges with her children – both teenagers at the time – who were losing interest in spending time with her.  She pointed out how when our children are young and demand much of our time, we believe they need us the most.  In fact, when they are older and want little to do with us is when they need us the most.  So many women choose to stay home with their children during their infant and toddler years and return to work once their children are in school.  The reality is that the time most beneficial for us to be around for our kids is really when they are teenagers and are pushing us away.  “Bigger kids, bigger problems,” so many people told me.  I could hardly understand what my boss was talking about with a 6 month-old and nearly 4 year-old at home.  How could they need me any more than they do now?  She laughed and said “you’d like 30 minutes away from your children right now and I’d like 30 minutes with mine.  I will never forget that.  Especially now that my children are beginning to want to be with me less and less.

Many years have gone by and I no longer work at Working Mother.  In fact, I chose to leave my full-time corporate job several years ago for the reasons that my boss pointed out that day.  I was beginning to feel the need to be around my children more as they were moving ahead in elementary school because I was seeing their lives becoming more complicated.  Getting home at 7pm and leaving at 7:30am meant that I had very little time to influence them, nurture them, support them and guide them.  Suddenly, homework was an issue.  Now, they had schedules for sports and other extracurricular activities and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to transport them places with just my husband (who was already working from home full-time) at the ready.  I knew it was time for a transition for me because, while they did not think so, my kids needed me – and I needed to be there for them.  I did not think much about my changing role because I still had the same independent mindset that I had when my children were babies.  I still wanted to have “me” time and I did not feel any compulsion to hover over them.  I know myself well enough to know that if I spent too much time with my kids, we would all be very unhappy.  However, I did not want my time with them limited to 2 hours per day because they needed much more from me.  We had to find a happy medium and we did.

So, we fast forward the clock to today.  As a family, we have settled into a new normal with mommy and daddy both working either from home or locally, with mommy taking sporadic business trips and being with clients a few days per week but mostly available.  My life is still very busy because, as a type A, I am always looking for more projects to fill my day.  If I do not have client work, I volunteer my time.  I sit on two boards, I have friends I like to spend time with, I exercise three or four times a week and I have hobbies.  Suddenly that 9-5 job with commuting seems like a walk in the park.

This week I had a little – well, maybe a big – eye-opener.  Last night, after I spent the day with a client in the city, went to kickboxing and then came home to force down some dinner before chatting with a colleague about some challenges from day, I realized both of my children had either not started or not completed their homework.  It was 9pm and definitely time for bed.  My younger son decided he wanted to attempt to do some of his homework before bed and my older one just abandoned it and said he would finish it up in the morning.  To top it off, my younger son showed me a paper from class that identified him as “star of the week” which was set to begin on Monday and now it was Wednesday and we had done nothing.  I was mortified.  Where had I been?  Why was I not checking in on my kids?  I had worked out every day, had a dinner meeting, had work calls every night and an assortment of other matters that I had tended to yet I had not noticed that my children were spending their afternoons and evenings playing xbox and not attending to their schoolwork.

While I have avoided getting caught up in working mom drama and guilt for many years, I was suddenly in the midst of an emotional downward spiral.  I felt really horrible that I had fallen asleep at the wheel and neglected my responsibility of parenting my bigger kids with bigger problems.  Then I started thinking about all the things I had forgotten to take care of while I was “selfishly” attending to work and other matters.  My younger son’s costume for his show was due in a week and I had not yet even begun to deal with that.  I realized that I had not even had a conversation with my kids since Monday – how did that happen and why hadn’t they noticed either?

Mother of the year, that is me for sure.

So, I did what any good mother would do.  I punished them.  I took away their xbox privileges, removed additional electronics from their weekday lives and instituted some new policies around homework.  But, truth be told, I am punishing myself the most.  I feel guilty and neglectful and, while I know that it is not the end of the world and it happens to everyone, I am committed to doing better.  I am not prepared to give up my work or my “me” time but I am prepared to struggle with the battle my boss told me about all those years ago.  I need to be more conscious and committed to getting that time with my children now that they are far less interested in giving in to me.  I am going to demand and prioritize my 30 minutes a day.  Maybe then I can throw away my  thorny MOTY crown.