Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Mom

Henry has taken lately to calling me "my mom."

"Come and play, my mom!"

"Can I have a jelly bean, my mom?"

"I'll be Yoda, and you be Obi-Wan Kenobi, my mom." (We've also been very into Star Wars lately.)

At first I thought the new moniker was a sign of possession -- this is my mom. But it's not how he says it. He says it the same way an adult would when talking about his or her mother: "Oh, my mom is coming for the weekend."

I think, maybe, being "my mom" is a result of Henry starting to have a life separate enough from me that he talks about me to other people -- to his preschool classmates, to his grandparents, to his little buddies. He refers to me when I'm not around.

I've decided I like being "my mom" as opposed to "my mom." I like that I am "my mom" casually and warmly and naturally, because I really hope that's how he talks about me when he grows up, too. I want teenager Henry to smile when he talks about hanging out with "my mom," and 20-something Henry to tell his roommates and girlfriends how awesome "my mom" is. And dangit, when that kid has kids, I'd better hear the sentence "My mom will come and help out for a couple weeks." (Or a couple months. Not to be pushy, distant-future in-laws.)
My mom, my brother, Gandalf, and me

I want that kind of relationship for my sake, but I want it for him, too. I get to talk about my mom like that, and I'm glad I do.

My mom is amazing, no questions asked. Oh, I know she wasn't always perfect when I was a kid, but only because she's confessed to such terrible slights as accidentally impaling me with a diaper pin once. If we're going off my memory alone, my mom is strictly awesome.

My mom spent her entire 22nd birthday in labor with me -- though, because I was stubborn from day one, I held out until 2 a.m. the day after, so we don't share a birthday.

My mom started college when my brother and I were toddlers, juggling her class schedule with my dad's so they could be home with us. I remember going to class with her and coloring while she took her tests. She graduated with a perfect 4.0.

My mom chaperoned a field trip to Seattle when I was in seventh grade. We were supposed to go to the art museum one afternoon, and even though my mom loves museums and knew it would be educational for us, she snuck my friends and me away from the pack and took us to Planet Hollywood for strawberry milkshakes, because we were 12 and it's exactly what we wanted.

My mom going fishing at Big Creek
My mom has been a teacher for almost 20 years, and even when she talks about how tiring and frustrating her job can be, she always circles back to how much she loves her kids, and I've never met a kid who didn't love her.

My mom can play "Amazing Grace" on the flute more beautifully than anyone on earth. My mom can spend an entire day fishing from a lawn chair on a dock even if she hardly catches a thing. My mom can recite Emily Dickinson poems.  My mom spent last weekend coaxing 10 baby ducklings from their eggs, checking on them in her classroom every few hours because she couldn't stop thinking about them.

I remember back in our childbirth class when I was pregnant with Henry, we went around and talked about who we wanted in the birthing room with us. I was the only person who said "my mom," and I realized then how blessed I am.

My mom has always trusted me, always supported me, always been willing to give me advice and help, always listened when I told her I wanted to do things on my own. She let me mess up when I needed to, and though we rarely argued she set me straight when I needed to be. (For the record: You were right about all those times you made me dress nicely for an important event, Mom. Sorry about that.)

My mom, aka Gramma, and little Henry
My mom was amazing when I was a kid. But she's amazing now, too. I'm closer with her now than I ever was, and I'm learning more and more all the time that I love her as a mother and just in general, as a person.

Happy Mother's Day, my mom.

(And happy Mother's Day to the rest of you, too. I've got to run -- got a date with a cheeseburger. If you'd like to stick around, you can read the previous post in the Mother's Day series here.)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Problem With Other Mothers

For the past few years, my Mother's Day gift has been a simple tradition: a beer and a bacon cheeseburger at a local pub.

Mom at Work
This year, I'm adding a little more -- I want my lunch alone. All alone. And I want to read while I eat. And if anyone interrupts me to do anything other than refill my water or ask if I want dessert (and I will), we will have words.

With a successful Easter series (start here and work backward if you haven't read it) behind us, I'd like to welcome you, dear Babblists, to the Mothers' Day series.

We begin with a thought launched in my mind by two articles posted on Facebook today by two of my beloved Mom-Friends -- people  I met through our mutual state of having young children, but I love for more than their ability to have kids that entertain my kids.

The first is a brief piece by author Erica Jong, posted in a debate about attachment parenting on the New York Times website. The second is a blog post by April Perry on the Power of Moms site.

The posts are unrelated and the main topics are quite different, but both address a similar problem: the habit of mothers to constantly compare themselves to other mothers, and to certain standards of parenting that may or may not actually exist.

In every city, in every social circle, and I have no doubt in every culture, there is a magical Perfect Mother hanging around, and every other mother simultaneously hates her and wants to be her. I love that both of these articles are in essence asking moms to knock off trying to be perfect.

"We all parent the best we can," Jong writes. "Being human, we’re ambivalent. We want perfection for our babies, but we also need sleep."

And says Perry, in harmony, "Whatever it is we feel we are lacking, can we collectively decide–as deliberate mothers–that we are not going to sit around feeling discouraged about all the things we’re not?"

These messages are so good, and so important. I need to hear them all the time. I'm not perfect, and I remind myself often that it's OK. I don't even do some of the things I'd like to for my boys, like making all of Little Dan's baby food, because I happen to like sleep and reading more. That's OK too.

But here's where I'm going to twist this a little farther: As much as it's reassuring to be told I'm not perfect, it's funny how fast being imperfect turns into a matter of pride.

Example: My boys live in hand-me-downs, yard sale scores, consignment store finds, and clearance-rack specials. New, full-price clothes are gift territory only. I'm quite content with this. I grew up in a similar manner, and I think it's good for people and the environment to re-use and recycle clothing. I also get a lovely little endorphin rush from getting a good deal. (Got these $56 shoes in like-new condition for Henry for $17. Continuing to brag about it. Go. Me.)

I've embraced the fact that my kids don't wear the latest styles, that all their name-brands are second hand, that one pair of shoes that fit is good and two pairs is awesome. And that's great. But ...

I know a mother whose kids who are always in the latest styles, in brands so posh I've never heard of them. They own multiple pairs of dress shoes. And I can't guess how many times I've caught myself observing them, muffling an eye roll, and thinking, "Ugh, how wasteful and shallow."

I'm pretty good at not wanting to be the Perfect Mother. But I have a problem not hating her.

This is the other side of the story that we've got to be telling to each other, moms (and dads, and grandparents, and anyone with little children they love). We're all doing this differently. We have different tastes and values and habits, and different ways of expressing them. Our incomes and situations force us into certain decisions and those situations aren't always readily apparent to the outside eye. We all have different standards of perfection, basically.

It's important to forgive ourselves for the things we don't do, and to embrace the way we do them. But it's also important to forgive all the other moms for doing it differently.

There is room, of course, for encouraging habits I think are good, for supporting positive changes of views and actions. But I have to quit disguising judgement of others beneath acceptance of myself.

I'm working on improving my attitude. I don't wear Danny around, but I need to tell the babywearing moms that they're awesome, too. I don't cloth diaper, but I need to express my admiration for the laundry-loving moms who do. I work a little and stay home a lot, but I know and love some women who have to work, some who want to work, and some who devote 100 percent of their time to the running of their homes, and I need to tell them all that they're important and interesting and good at what they do. And I need to tell the mom of those dressed-up kids how adorable her kids are in their spiffy outfits, because they really are adorable, and I can tell she loves putting together their adorableness.

Step one of ending the ridiculous Mommy Wars is loving ourselves. But it's empty without loving each other.


Happy Mothers' Day to all you mothers and all you who love a mother. Stop by again as the series continues ...

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Flashback: Visitors!

I've said before that high school wasn't exactly my favorite thing. Now, I'm wary of anyone who calls the awkward social teenage times the "best years" -- but now that it's been nine years since I graduated, it's easier to enjoy the good memories and forget about all the angst. (Though sometimes I laugh at the angst. Ha, ha. Angst.)

The Roberts family got a delightful blast from the high-school past last week: my friend Natalie stopped by for a few days ... from Switzerland!

Natalie was an exchange student my senior year of high school. We played soccer together on a goofy co-ed rec-league team, and hit it off pretty quickly. She was absorbed into my group of quirky, nerdy, artsy friends, and some of my best memories of that year include her.

Natalie (as Pippi Longstocking), Nina (as Pocahontas)
and me (as "Very Cold," because it's North Idaho), Halloween 2002.
Yes, we trick-or-treated. Yes, it was awesome.

We'd last seen each other seven years ago at a wedding. That was a brief visit -- short enough that no one can seem to remember if Tim was even there -- so getting to spend two days with her was pretty great. She also brought along her former host-sister Krista, who was a quiet eighth-grader last time I saw her and has transformed into a sweet, hipster-y Seattleite. (Also along for the trip: Krista's dog Wayne, who quickly became Henry's new best friend.)

We got a little nostalgic for senior year, naturally, and cataloged where all our old friends are (made way easier by Facebook, though we still thought up a few people lost to time), but the best part of the visit was figuring out that we're still friends now.

Our lives have taken different trajectories -- in particular that I married and had children young, which is an oddity in Switzerland -- but our personalities still mesh. She was thrilled to meet my boys, I was thrilled to hear of her world travels and her job teaching elementary school.  It was good catching up on old times, and good getting to know each other as adults, as our conversation wandered to topics of culture and relationships and politics that just hadn't been on our radar as kids.

We walked around town and played with the kids and went to a hole-in-the-wall bar and a cool coffeeshop and ate Swiss chocolate and enormous American hamburgers. It was just good to hang out again, really.

Now I've just got to figure out a way to get to Switzerland!

(Here are just a few photos from the weekend -- Henry was not interested in sitting still, and poor Danny had an ear infection and spent most of the time sleeping feverishly. And I'm just terrible at taking pictures. ... Argh.)

Looking for worms
Henry and Wayne

If Henry lets us actually take a picture, he often has to pose with his light saber

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