You know Mom, I love how you dress. And I love that you aren’t too pretty to be a Mom.
I mean, all frou-frou and what not. Your style is…what’s the word I’m looking for?
No, that’s not it. Give me a minute…
Things that are “RIDICULOUS” to a precocious 10-year-old girl:
• Dad standing outside the shower telling me to hurry up. I am hurrying!
• Every single boy in the 4th grade. Except maybe two of them.
• In that Backyardigans episode my little brother watches, the Olympians are playing basketball when the sport wasn’t even INVENTED until like the 1890′s
• Bedtime rules on school nights
• That Mom and Dad always know when I sneak candy
• Peanut butter
• Girls who go nutso over 1D. I mean, I love their music but really?
• My brothers and all their wrestling
• When I can’t stay up as late as I want to read. It’s reading! It’s educational!
• With the word moist you pronounce the t, but with moisten you don’t
• Crying and whining totally works for my little brother
• Watching Star Wars for the bazilliionth time because my brothers got to pick
• I can’t have a playdate today when I NEVER EVER see my friends
• Pancakes without bacon
• Mom’s no-soda rule
• That one lady on Design Star
• Mom and Dad telling me not to nitpick
• That casual attire doesn’t always means Nike shorts and a T-shirt
• People in the world who haven’t read the Harry Potter series a million times
• Pretty much every pair of clean socks in my drawer
* * *
1. If tears are not shed the week before the party, you aren’t trying hard enough. If your daughter is old enough for a slumber party, you are experienced enough to know the emotional build-up to any birthday is a tragic, unavoidable reality. This is particularly true for monumental celebrations (Hello, remember your 40th?) and especially brutal when a party warrants you to kick the husband and boys out of the house and invite a pack of girls to arrive in their place.
2. Everything must be perfect and fabulous. Chances are, you and your daughter will disagree on these definitions, but often that can help bring on the necessary pre-party tears. (Win win!) Stand your ground, wherever it may be. (My personal strategy is to fall somewhere between “Yes to the 12 kinds of sprinkles but No to the rented photo booth.”)
3. You will need a wingwoman. Preferably someone who complements and balances you out. Someone who can apply makeup, make impromptu microphones out of aluminum foil and spatulas, laugh loudly with you, and repeat quietly, “It’s fine. It’s fine….”
4. Speaking of makeup, you will need to stock up on new kits and sharpen your application skills. The natural golds and browns that fill your bathroom cabinets will have no place at this party. There will be two kinds of girls: those who want the dark, smokey eyes and those who want the bright, colorful ones. Watch out for the girls who pick the smokey eyes. Danger lurks in the shadows.
5. When the party is in full swing, there should be plenty of thumping music, but no lectures. Make peace with that right now. Even if you think you have an open mind about your daughter’s taste in music, nothing prepares you for the moment when a favorite (uncensored) song comes on and every girl belts out bitch without missing a beat. (Insert your wingwoman: “It’s fine. It’s fine….”)
6. The dancing will be silly and fun and campy for approximately 12 seconds, until a few girls (always the smokey-eyed ones) will whip out their best gyrations, hair flips and pouty looks. You will shoot photos, laughing casually and then uneasily. When one girl’s hip-shaking move turns into a come-hither, crawling-on-the-floor maneuver, you might need to leave the room and pour yourself a glass of wine. No shame in knowing your limits. (“It’s fine, it’s fine….”)
7. It is usually around this point of the party that the flash-backs/flash-forwards begin. Every moment from middle school and high school will come rushing back to you. Every sleepover, every awkward cotillion party, every Lucky Star line dance. You will see The Breakfast Club stereotypes appear before you and you will instinctively know which girl jumping on your hearth, or lounging on your couch, or contriving her body on the floor will be the Molly Ringwald, the Ally Sheedy, the Anthony Michael Hall. The future is now.
8. As the evening comes to a close, you will have to abandon your Fun Mom facade for your That Mom uniform. You might start with, “Ok, girls, seriously time to go to sleep…” and then move to “If I come out here again…” but at some point you likely will find yourself standing silently in the dark, arms crossed, hovering over a pile of sleeping bags, your mere presence threatening even the slightest giggle. If you get here without tears, you will know you have arrived. You have earned yet another Mom Badge. Wear it proudly until morning.
9. The day after is always The Day After. Both you and your daughter will be hungover like you haven’t felt since 1993. Sleep deprivation, sugar overload, post-party depression, you name it. Consider this a mental dehydration that no amount of gatorade or grease can cure. The only guaranteed solution? Trash TV and time.
10. With time will come recovery. Just like the days and weeks following childbirth, you will forget the pain and enjoy a simple nostalgia. You will wonder what the big deal was after all. Enjoy the delusions for a while because next year, mark my words, the party will be omigod even bigger and better!!
Tomorrow night, my angel will adjust her wings and fly toward something she has been dreaming about for six years. The first time I took her to The Nutcracker, I shrugged off the “you’re taking a 3-year-old to do what?” comments, pulled out our holiday finery and loaded up my purse with peppermint bribes. She made it almost two hours before needing a mint and has been hooked ever since.
My Doodlebug is an unusually disciplined student, and I often wonder how her life will play out, what she will pursue, and how I will help shape the person she becomes. We parents can only do so much, I know, but yet we can do so much. A little food for thought as our children twirl and leap toward their futures…
Happiness is Contagious
If you always compare your children’s abilities
to those of great athletes, entertainers, and celebrities,
they will lose their own power.
If you urge them to acquire and achieve,
they will learn to cheat and steal
to meet your expectations.
Encourage your children’s deepest joys,
not their superficial desires.
Praise their patience,
not their ambition.
Do not value the distractions and diversions
that masquerade as success.
They will learn to hear their own voice
instead of the noise of the crowd.
If you teach them to achieve
they will never be content.
If you teach them contentment,
they will naturally achieve everything.
We all want our children to be happy.
Somehow, some way today
show them something that makes you happy,
something you truly enjoy.
Your own happiness is contagious.
They learn the art from you.
~William Martin’s The Parent’s Tao Te Ching
Last week my oldest child, my only daughter, my Doodlebug, turned nine.
The event was met by the usual sugary celebrations, giggling girls and adorable handmade cards. We pulled out the red You Are Special Today plate and reminisced about all eight birthday parties that came before. Then we stretched the bedtime rules so I could tell her the long version of where I was and how I felt the moment she came into the world and made me a mother.
And it was almost exactly how we spend every birthday around here. In the best sense of the word: routine.
Yet, there are significant changes brewing. With the dawn of this last single-digit birthday, I am seeing glimpses of a fresh, uncharted era.
My daughter, she is growing up. She is proudly developing skills and talents to call her own. She is building trusted and loving friendships. She is becoming a delightful conversationalist and confidante.
She is also mastering the eye-roll, testing boundaries, and nit-picking my every statement like an over-eager law student. There are moments when she makes it easy to believe she will become a teenager in only a matter of years.
Though she saves her most brazen attitudes for home, my daughter is learning to speak her truths outside the nest. One day she mentioned talk of Popular Girls at school—that cringe-worthy phrase that I knew would come up eventually—but she matter-of-factly explained that she had no interest in chasing that label. She was a Smart Girl, she told me, and quite happy to stay that way.
Last week, as 8 years turned to 9, she started embellishing her signature with Amazing preceding her name. So now anyone who reads her letters, nametags, notebooks or artwork will know how amazing she is. See, there it is. In writing.
And I totally get it. I have been exactly there.
When I was nine, I took to signing my name Elizabeth the Great. Just like my daughter, this signature adorned every piece of paper I touched. Apparently my teachers condoned it. My mother, she encouraged it. That year Mom pulled out her sewing machine and made me a turquoise denim jacket. Down one sleeve, in colorful iron-on letters, she put Elizabeth. Down the other: the Great.
Let me tell you, I wore that jacket with gusto.
A year after the turquoise jacket was born, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We would soon find out that her condition fell into the worst possible category. Her disease would be steady and irreversible. There would be no remission, no turning back, no magic bullet.
By the time I was 11, my mother was confined to a wheelchair and quickly losing her sight. She retired from her roles as Book Club Leader and Girl Scout Mom. My father’s job moved us 300 miles across the state.
Somewhere in those couple of dark and foggy years, I outgrew the jacket and dropped my Great alias.
And along the same time, I shed some of my boldness. My steadiness and self-confidence wavered. Who can say if this change was all circumstantial or if I just realized there was a world beyond my own ego. Perhaps maturity would have shined its light on my bravado regardless of my family life. I don’t really know.
I do know this: 30 years later, when I think about my moments of personal power, I think of being nine. I think of that jacket and my audacious nickname. I think about how I owned my story and the image of myself I wanted to create. Even amidst the rules and expectations set by loving and devoted parents, I was once a 9-year-old who felt like she could do and be anything.
I am fast approaching my 40th birthday, and even still, every time I try something new or take a leap of faith, or need a jolt of self-confidence, I call upon my 9-year-old self. I wrap myself up in the memory of a girl strutting around in a turquoise denim jacket, brandishing her nickname and all the power it promises.
So here is my hope for this year, as my daughter begins her ninth year and I leave behind my thirties…I will find a symbolic jacket to share with her. I will tell her that yes, I believe she deserves her Amazing nickname but most important, that I’m glad she believes it herself.
I will pray that she holds on to her rising confidence and learns to shape it into something creative and compassionate. I will hope that no matter how her life changes, that the jacket I give will fit her long after nine.
A recent cleaning frenzy uncovered more than just old toys and dried-up markers. I found some musings from my budding writer, written when she was 5 or 6 years old.
I don’t think I have to explain how these flip-flopped my heart. I will say this: I have a few wishes of my own for my sweet girl.
I wish that your every wish comes true, Doodlebug, and that you never stop dreaming and never stop striving. You will go so far, I just know it. And someday, when you climb that rainbow, I promise to be right there beside you, smiling as big as the sun.
For the last few months we’ve been dealing with a series of fun household issues that happened in exactly this order:
1.) a Mama possum decided to sublease the crawlspace underneath our house, without asking first. She moved in just in time to nest and give birth to 5 babies.
2.) We hired some nice gentlemen to relocate this family to another home. These men swore that “home” was not a euphemism.
3.) We never heard from the family again, but they were gracious enough to leave behind a farewell gift: fleas.
4.) Our hyper-allergic, 13-year-old dog became infested with the farewell gift.
5.) I lost my ever-loving mind.
6.) We had the entire house and yard bombed with who-knows-what.
7.) We sighed with relief and got back to our lives. Until…Zoe the dog got an awful stomach bug and we learned that she was, once again, covered in a shitload of fleas.
That brings us to yesterday, when I had to pile all three kids PLUS a geriatric, flea-riddled, diarrhea-prone dog into the car to make a trip to the vet. Imagine my enthusiasm! Once home, and with $200 worth of advice and pills, I had the following conversation.
“Mom, is Zoe going to be ok?” Doodlebug asked.
“Yes, she will be fine. It’s just a stomach thing and we’ve got the pest guys coming out again tomorrow.”
“Is this our fault, Mom? Did we not take care of her well enough and that’s why she’s sick?”
Isn’t she a little young to feel mama guilt??
“We are doing the best we can, sweetie. And no, it’s not our fault–this just happened, that’s all. A series of unfortunate events. Think about it…is it my fault every time you get a sore throat?”
“Doodlebug…the words you’re looking for are “No, of course not Mom!”
The delicately beaded mother-of-the-bride dress, worn especially for me, stays.
The two others, still dangling tags and dashed hopes, stay as well. The hand-sewn rainbow sundress, thin and frayed from years on the beach, and the red and green zippered housecoat worn every Christmas morning, must remain too–though none of these will ever be worn again.
My mother’s shoes, sharing space with thousands of dollars worth of life-sustaining medical supplies, will be passed along with little nostalgia.
I will keep the once-purple college sweatshirt, now paint-splattered and faded to an almost gray. I will save an embroidered suede bag that looks carefree, even though that’s not a word I would have ever used to describe her.
Most everything else I pull from the racks and stack atop an old sheet spread across her bedroom floor. I gather the corners and knot them into a bundle as I did every year as a nomad college student. I repeat this for the skirts, the blouses, the sweaters, the dresses, the coats. My father retrieves bundle after bundle, beating a path from bedroom to garage until his truckbed is full.
The volume is staggering. I can tell that my mother stopped cleaning out her closet when she got sick, all those 30 years ago. Perhaps holding onto everything offered some normalcy as her world shifted so dramatically. If these items gave comfort then, they give only stinging sadness today.
I have done this final clean-out before. Years ago, on a tearful autumn weekend, I gave away every onesie and every burp cloth. I tossed all but one pair of tiny leather booties. I kept the homecoming outfit, the mini college jersey, the First Birthday attire. I shipped off every last bottle, blanket and board book with resignation.
There were to be no more babies. But then, a year and a half later, there was.
And from the moment his heart beat across the flickering screen, he was stunning and redemptive and completed our family in a way I had not dared to imagine.
But that memory is hardly like today. Today I sit in my mother’s mostly empty closet and realize that there will be no new memories, no surprises, no redemption. I realize that the only possible life coming from this closure will be my own rebirth as a daughter and mother.
I inhale deeply and exhale with slow and measured intention. This is women’s work, I know.
Even in a haze of grief, we mothers and daughters can steady ourselves. We approach these watershed tasks knowing full well that something, anything, can bring us to our knees in pain. We may ache longingly or regretfully. We may feel cheated and furious. We may feel utterly alone in the heaviness of the moment.
But then, we gather ourselves up. We quiet our minds and whisper gently to our hearts. We continue with the sifting, the deciding, the separating. Because despite the ache, we trust no one else to do this sorting for us.
* * *
I didn’t need a reminder that my Mom is gone. Not even a friendly reminder. Especially not a friendly reminder from an automated email system telling me that “Mother’s Day is coming soon! Order now and save!”
I didn’t need this same cheerful email to remind me that last year I bought the
“Hugs and Kisses” bouquet of purple irises and red tulips. After all, they were my signature Mother’s Day gift: a vibrant and energetic collection that screamed springtime. There was nothing subtle or forgettable about this annual bouquet.
I didn’t ask for the reminders, but there they are in my inbox, making sure I haven’t forgotten anything about my Mom or her place in my life. I read these messages and want to shake my computer shouting, “I have not forgotten ANYTHING, you fool! You stupid, stupid fool.”
If someone were to ask me how long it’s been I would need only a minute to calculate that the long, surreal January night was exactly 10 weeks and 3 days ago today. Weeks and days…the last time I counted time in weeks and days I was cradling a newborn.
Like the bizarre way the clock can simultaneously stand still and race forward when you are raising babies, so does it move when you have lost someone dear. It was only moments ago…It was a lifetime ago…I will never ever be OK…Life is somehow still marching on.
I find these contradictions surprisingly grounding. They tell me that I don’t need a clock or a calendar to remind me that time is not what it seems, or that life is too short to be fearful and too long to be unhappy. They remind me that even though time erases moments, the important ones are indeed unforgettable.