Donning My Mom Genes


motherhood

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…

THE SMALLEST THINGS


the smallest thingsThere are days that I am so caught up in the mayhem of my life that I surely forget to smell the proverbial flowers.  I get lost in the chaos, mired in the struggles, am devoured by the difficulties that surround me.  I can’t find my way to all the little things, the small miracles that make life so very wonderful.

Today was one of those days.  Difficult and overwhelming and then a surprise package came at the end that reminded me of how extraordinary the smallest things can be.

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A typical spring Friday night in my house means that there is lacrosse practice for my husband and older son and one or more other assorted events that has us roaming in various directions.  There are drop-offs and pick-ups and juggling meals and nothing that makes for a relaxing end of the week.  Tonight, my older son had an end-of-season basketball party while my husband had to go coach his team (minus my son and some of the other kids who also play basketball).  This left me in the unfortunate position of having to do drop-off and pick-up from the party while also having to feed and entertain my younger son.  And, as is typical for a Friday night for me, all I wanted to do was go up to bed, watch some TV and pass out.  I was wiped.  I had a plan.  I would drop off the older kid, make some dinner for the younger kid, sprawl out on the couch in the interim and then head back out to pick up the older kid.  My husband would fend for himself when he got home from practice because I would already be tucked away in bed.  However, my younger son had other ideas.

“Can we go out to dinner, please?”

“No, I’m too tired.”  I was in sweat pants and a t-shirt and was in no shape to be seen by the rest of the world.  My pink crocs, which I rarely display for anyone other than my immediate family, were glued to my feet.  I was not prepared for real clothes, makeup and putting on actual shoes.

“Pleeeease!  Just you and me, mommy.”

“No.  We can order a pizza.”  I figured that would put an end to this discussion.

“But I want to go out.  Please.”

I wasn’t sure what would be worse torture at that point.  Actually getting dressed, putting a brush through my hair and applying some makeup so I didn’t look quite as miserable and tired as I felt or listening to him whine about wanting to go out.  I relented.  It actually seemed like a better idea.  I would not have to cook and we could eat while my son was at his party and I would only have to go out once for the evening.  This was a plan I could live with.  Going out to dinner was, in fact, an easier plan and that was all I was striving for.

We dropped off the older boy at his party and the younger one and I headed to the diner.  We figured it would be crowded but we had time and we would make it work.

As the mother of a teenager, I spend a good deal of my time being reminded of how I am always wrong, how I don’t understand anything and how annoying I am.  When with my kids, I’m typically poised in a defensive position to deflect the barbs that are generally aimed my way.  No amount of reminding my son how disrespectful his comments might be, taking away his phone, preventing him from going out with his friends will ward off the biological disorder called adolescence that turns your once delightful child into a horrible beast.  I forget, sometimes, that I also have a 10-year old.  A child who can be challenging in his own right but is also an old soul who exudes more love and compassion than I have ever seen emanate from a single human being.  He has a perspective on the world that allows him to wander far beyond the typical selfish constructs of a tween and embrace a curiosity for humankind that amazes me.  While I sometimes might have labeled him as “manipulative” because he knows exactly how to turn on the charm when he needs to, I have come to realize that he has a genuine gift for knowing exactly the right things to say and do at exactly the right times.  He is tuned in.  He is connected.  He feels things.  And I am in awe of him.

And, tonight, as if on cue, he decided to bring me deeper into his world.  He decided to share with me the inner workings of his mind.  He opened himself up to me in a way I would expect to find with an adult.  He appreciated and valued our time together and explained to me why it was so important that he and I have dinner together – just the two of us.  His was not just a plan to eat outside the house.  He needed to connect.

So, there I am sitting across the table from my round-faced, freckled boy who entered this world a short 10 years, 3 months and 4 days ago.  The boy who has stubbornly refused to subscribe to any philosophy that I may have foisted upon him and chose to figure out what makes the world spin all on his own.  He is quietly brilliant, remarkably charming and will go to the ends of the earth to get a good laugh out of you.  He, himself, loves to smile and giggle and gets such great joy out of seeing others amused.  There I was with my boy who has struggled through all of 4th grade.  The boy who left school last June with a light shining so brightly after having overcame immense challenges with reading and writing.  This year, we saw him go from loving school to dreading taking tests and worrying that he would disappoint us.  My boy, who seemed to be heading down a dismal path of academic failure for reasons no one could understand, had something to tell me.  He needed me to know that all was not lost.  He needed to use that powerful invisible tether that connects mother and child to reassure me that he was ok and reinforce the direct line into his brain.

Tonight we sat together and talked.  He started by asking me what big amazing thing I wanted to see happen in the world.  I wasn’t sure if he was referencing an end to world hunger or the invention of a TV you could control with your mind. I looked at him quizzically and he said, “let me tell you what I am hoping for.  A real bionic man.”  I was intrigued because I had never heard him talk about anything like this before.  He went on to tell me how amazing it would be for someone to be able to do things they might have either lost the power to do (like having lost a leg or an arm) or never was able to do before (such as run a marathon when they found jogging too hard).  He wanted to give people a new chance with their lives so they could go on to do good things for other people.

Wow.  OK, I thought perhaps I might have to have his DNA checked because he was far too selfless to have sprung from my loins.

He went on to ask me about my business and provide his thoughts on how we might be successful.  He praised me for all the hard work we had done and told me how proud he was of me.  I had to catch my breath.  What was happening here?

We sat together for 90 minutes.  No phones, no handheld games, no distractions.  Just him and I.  We talked about what he liked and disliked about school and he shared with me all he was learning about Anne Frank and the Holocaust and about the Boston Tea Party.  He showcased his grammatical skills by telling me the differences between “they’re,” “their,” and “there” and “two,” “too,” and “to”.  I was over the moon.  He prattled on and on, engaging me in philosophical discussions about trying to invent teleporting – “Mommy, you could set your watch to have coffee with Tim in Kansas City at 3pm and when the time comes you will just be there to see him.  And then you can come home and have dinner with me.  Wouldn’t that be great?”  Oh yes, my extraordinary boy, it sure would.  And I believe you can make it happen.

He told me how, when he’s 30, he would come to pick me up and take me out to dinner.  “I can’t wait to do that for you, mommy.”  And, together we came up with the premise for a book about a superhero named Incognito who gained the power of invisibility while working as a scientist in a lab.  While trying to solve global warming, he interacted with a chemical that knocked him out.  When he awoke and stood up to see if he was bruised, he realized he could not see his reflection in the mirror.  And, he realized that he was not a vampire but, instead, he was incognito.  And then we talked about what it would be like to be able to become invisible in certain tough situations.

I sat across from my son during our meal and marveled at the words coming out of his mouth.  I wondered why I had not heard half of it before.  Was I not paying attention?  Did I not give him enough attention?  Was he constantly being overpowered by his older sibling?  I realized that some of it was new for him.  Some it was just finally forming into thoughts in his head.  And, some of it came out because the time was right.  He needed to have some alone time, away from the house, away from the rest of the family.  Some time just with me to share with me that he was doing great.  To show me that the world was opening up in his mind and now he loved to read, fancied himself a writer and had a newfound passion for history. “I’m pretty good at math too, mommy, but it’s not my best.” He wanted to share all the things that were stirring around in his mind with the person he felt he could most trust with it.  His mommy.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to smile as wide as my mouth could stretch or cry tears of joy.  All I knew for every moment of those 90 minutes was that I was grateful that I have this boy.  I love his big brother too but I know it will be a while before he’s coming back from Iamthemostimportantpersoninthewholewideworld Land and I won’t get opportunities like this with for a long time, if ever.  I was grateful to hear all the wonderful things floating around in his head and having the reassurance that he had not lost his spark.  I was grateful to hear about his passions that also happened to match some of mine.  I was most grateful for the fact that he is a beautiful, healthy, happy, kind and loving person.  And he is my child.  My blessing.  My gift.  I felt so very fortunate to have someone so extraordinary in my life.  I was grateful for the happy accident that we ended up together alone at dinner.  I was grateful for the small little things that made this night so unbelievably magical.

As dinner was ending – and I was sad to see it our little bubble burst – we chatted a little bit more about our plans for the weekend and he said, almost out of nowhere, “We need to do this more often, mommy.”  I smiled and nodded my head.  Yes we do, for sure.  And then, we got up, paid the check and walked outside.  I was beaming with pride and felt so joyful as I put my arm around his shoulder and he tucked his arm around my back.  “I’m so proud of you, buddy.  You are growing up to be such an amazing person.”  He was smiling and feeling proud and then said, “You did a good job raising me.”  And, I was done.  I laughed, embraced the moment and knew he was right.