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Posts Tagged ‘mothering’

nestI read this blog post thanks to a friend sharing it on Facebook, and I had too many ideas to share in a comment, so I’m writing my own post with my takes on the idea. Liane Kupferberg Carter wrote “For Some Moms, the Nest May Never Be Empty.

I wrote last year that my second daughter, who has Down syndrome, turned 18, and it was a different experience than when my oldest daughter did. She’s now 19, and she completed high school this June. That change and others of this year have been more impactful than her just turning 18. This year, she’s in a new class setting that’s at our local community college, but that’s still run by our county school district, as was her high school class. She is still learning life skills, but the class is working even more toward the students being able to move about in society on their own and work as much in ways they are able to and will enjoy. She carries around a small purse with a little money and her state I.D. card. She got a bus pass and her own library card (which I just hadn’t done with her yet myself). She’s talking more about socializing. Or maybe I’m picking up on it more. With her having “graduated” from high school, having her be able to be “out there” in the world in ways that work for her seems more imminent. I’m thinking more about finding ways for her to get out there and socialize with her peers. I’m thinking about the possibilities of her immediate and slightly more distant future, whereas before I was just putting that on the back burner in my mind, “putting a pin in it,” because there’s just so much else for me to think about RIGHT NOW (I mean, having three kids still at home, plus a “grown” daughter and now a grandson — yay!!! — is just a ton of work anyway. A woman can only do so much).

My husband has kind of set in his head that she will just live with us forever, so we will never be empty-nesters, just as Carter wrote. I’ve always had in my head that she certainly could move out to different kinds of settings that she may enjoy more than just staying with her parents, at least off and on. I still think that. She’s pretty social and capable.

At the same time, my nest continues to feel different. My oldest moved out two years ago when she got married, which really changed the dynamics in our home. We have four daughters, and it’s astounding how the dynamics shifted when just the oldest one moved out. For one, I really mourned when that oldest got married. It took me months to come to grips with it. I missed her so much, and having her be married and “belong” to someone else made it different than just going off to college. For another thing, I just didn’t like the way the remaining three interacted, compared with how it was when my oldest was still at home. They still bicker more than when she was here (as one example), and it’s been 2-plus years.

I’m acutely aware of the differences between me and my friends, especially the ones I follow on social media. They have similar age gaps in their families, at least at the beginning (there’s two years between the first two, but then a four-year gap after I had Marissa — I just wasn’t ready for another infant too soon because she still felt like an infant and toddler for a longer time than the first had — and then a five-year gap between the last two because it took three long years to get our adopted girl), and while I see their oldest out and doing various fun “new-adult” things like my first, then I see their second and third children out doing those things, too, and I feel like my situation has stalled. Sure, it’s comparing, and you know what they say about that, but it’s just always there. I see it. I feel it. I feel “other.”

I still have plenty of parenting time in me: I have a sophomore and a fifth-grader. From experience, I know the remaining time at home is going to fly with my sophomore, who really keeps me hopping. Then she’ll fly on out of the nest on to all kinds of great things. She’s an achiever, like I was. And the 10-year-old, well, 8 years still seems like a long time.

So the nest is still full-ish. But I have enough taste of the birds starting to fly out that I can feel those changes. I can feel the things that aren’t changing. I also worry a bit about things I’m not doing, which certainly isn’t different from any parent, no matter their child’s situation. I have just recently watched one episode of “Born This Way,” which follows some young-adult people with Down syndrome, and it stirred up all kinds of feelings of sadness, guilt, wistfulness, worry, etc. I was happy for the ways those young adults are just being “normal” young people. I felt guilt for not doing more to get my daughter “out there” more like that. In a way, I don’t want to have that to compare my situation to, because it’s almost harder emotionally for me to compare with people who are essentially more in my situation than others I know. It sets a standard I don’t know I can meet. I mean, I’m sure it’s meant in part to give me hope for a good life for my daughter, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I compare negatively.

I certainly know I’m not ready to deal more with my daughter’s dating future (which is probably a whole other post on its own). It’s hard enough to deal with certain simpler issues with her when she acts like an 8-year-old in many respects, let alone the complex world of dating.

I guess that’s where I put a pin in a few items still, work on some that I’d pinned earlier, and know that I can do this, one or two topics and needs at a time. And whether she eventually flies out of the nest permanently or occasionally, we’ll be (mostly) ready for it when we amble up to that bridge that needs crossing.

 

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My last blog post was about my goal to take better care of my health, with a multi-pronged approach. I did well for a few weeks. And then I didn’t.

The catalyst for getting completely foiled, at least for the past month, was my grandmother’s death. It was expected; she was 99, and my family and I had had a good visit with her a few months before, as we knew she was declining after a long and full life. But the day she died, I got drained, emotionally and physically, and I just had to step out of the Atkins diet that seems to work for me, at least scale-wise.

Since then, I’ve wanted to get back into focusing on my eating and doing all the other things necessary to take better care of my whole self. How well have I done? Crappy. That’s what.

Here’s the deal: I’m a mom. I have a husband and four daughters, and they are all in vital stages of their lives. Parenting them now is in a way more demanding than it was when they were little; then it was mainly sleep deprivation and not being able to catch much alone time. Life was just a lot simpler then. Now, there’s so much more of a mental game to it than just being the taxi driver. I’m there. I’m on call. I’m helping figure out all kinds of important things for the next week, the next month, the next year: their LIVES. Even my oldest, who is married and “on her own,” still needs me, and I am still there for her whenever I can be. Even more, our relationship has a new dynamic and dimension, one we’re still trying to adjust to, I think, almost a year on.

Add to my momhood my personal leaning toward taking care of other people all the time, and my own self gets left in the dust. This past month or so has been a pressure-cooker, a meat-grinder, of calendaring and coordinating activities and appointments; responsibilities, obligations, big questions, long to-do lists, and hardly having a moment to breathe and just think about myself. Granted, I know from sad experience (over and over and over again) that is a recipe for disaster, but after all these years, I’m still trying to figure out how to cut the recipe in half or something.

So I sit here again and contemplate how to take care of myself physically: eat better overall, less sugar, more fruits and vegetables (which I do really love and eat probably more of than the average person, but still)… all that jazz. Figure out how to decrease emotional eating (THAT’s a biggie). Mix up my exercise (I’ve been dedicated to working out for 25-plus years and I really enjoy it and how it makes me feel), do some more fun and different things. The pressure cooker of the past month or two is likely to be turned down a few notches for the near future. Maybe I can make some strides on me.

What I know is this: appropriate self-care can take a lifetime of practice.

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Motherhood did not come naturally to me. Babysitting, on the rare occasions I consented to do it, was a rough job, one that wasn’t worth nearly the small pay I got to do it. So once I gave birth for the first time and was presented with a tiny little stranger, I was absolutely flummoxed about what to do with her. Even looking at pictures of me with that first child, I can see the confusion and nervousness in my eyes: “What now?” I was thinking.

And that first child gave me fits. She was a very demanding baby. She didn’t eat for half an hour and then settle down quietly for the next four hours. She snacked for ten minutes and then needed to eat again two hours later. She did NOT like to be put down. I had to hold her constantly. For someone who was pretty independent and used to going about my business, having the little seven-pound interloper in my arms nonstop made it pretty difficult to get anything done.

So that darling child did not ease me gently into motherhood. It was a bumpy ride, and I did not enjoy it. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and overloaded. I remember many times that first year thinking, “I can’t wait til I’m done having children and they grow up a bit.”

Time slowly went by, and I gave birth two more times and adopted once. I knew what I was doing the second and third times, and the second baby was just the most easygoing child ever. She would eat and then sit in her bouncy seat or car seat and smile beatifically up at me, doing whatever I needed to do. Third child was somewhere in between. But by then I had help: two older sisters to distract her (and one time push her off the couch…). Fourth baby was a breeze in many ways because I didn’t breast-feed her, so everyone else could take turns feeding her a bottle. And changing diapers. And holding and playing with her. It was so much more fun that time around to have a little baby. I enjoyed her.

They all went through the terrible twos and their early stages of independence and potty training. Those days are now behind me. My oldest is now 16, and the youngest 5. They’re now all in school. They can feed and dress themselves and read to themselves, except for the kindergartener. Yes, I am finally getting to that magic place I imagined when I had that first demanding baby. And it’s struck me that this time is finite. The oldest is now not a squalling infant; she’s a high school junior. And she is amazing. She’s delightful and smart and talented and beautiful and makes me laugh. She can talk my ear off about her day. We can share jokes together. She’s one of my dearest friends, and I am loving life with her in it. Now the day of her leaving the nest is actually in sight (less than two years!), and it’s paining my heart to even think about. I DON’T WANT HER TO LEAVE!

Ah, what a difference 15 or 16 years can make.

So I have realized that, despite the absolutely crazy, hectic pace of my daily life with four children in school and all the needs they have, these are the best of times. In a few years, one daughter will be gone, and the others will be making their way towards that direction as well. The clock is ticking. And at this stage of my life, it’s not a biological clock. It’s the clock reminding me with every tock and tick that while motherhood is permanent, having children at home is not. I bemoan the lack of peace and quiet and sufficient time to myself now, but even in the midst of this busy-ness, I can’t imagine my house being quiet all the time. I love knowing that I can cuddle and squeeze all of my girls any time, that I can talk to them, listen to them, just study their faces. That we can laugh together.

I’m going to keep reminding myself during the tough days or moments that these really are the best of times. It might take a loud reminder during those moments, but I hope I can somehow still remember and appreciate what I have now.

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So I wrote yesterday about how I’ve been overwhelmed by all the huge obligations and responsibilities of mothering four growing girls. I’ve been feeling low on the coping scale for a few weeks, so by the time my birthday hit the other day, I wasn’t steadied by very many more reserves of patience or understanding.

I knew my “special day” would be crazy, so I expected that. What I also knew, after 19 years of experience, is that my husband is nearly completely unable to surprise me with anything, including gifts. I have to tell him ahead of time for any kind of occasion what I would like. Either he goes out and gets it and wraps it for me to unwrap and exclaim, “Oh, that’s great! I love it!” or we sit down to order it online together (he’ll click the “order” button so it’s from him), or we’ll go out shopping together after the fact.

I’ve largely grown accustomed to this setup, and I do appreciate that 1) I am difficult to buy for because my mood is always changing and 2) not everyone is a great gift-giver. I like to think I’m pretty good at selecting presents for others. I mostly really enjoy it, in fact. It’s so fun to always keep my eyes peeled for little ideas that come up in the course of conversations and then seeing something in a store or online that just matches up. It’s then so fun to see how the person reacts to what I found. I really love it. But no, not everyone can do that very well.

So my dear hubby really tried to come up with some fun things for me on my birthday (the other big problem for him at this time of year is that my birthday and Mother’s Day are always very close together: two big occasions to honor me right in a row, or even on the same day). He came up with a couple of ideas, one of which was one we’ve already done a few times, and which I do enjoy, but in this case, I wasn’t really in the mood and wanted something different. The second ended up being ridiculously expensive, therefore, out of the question. The upshot: on my birthday, as I was racing around doing mommy stuff and wearing myself out, I ended up with not a single present to open.

 

This drawing and the new header for the site are actually gifts from my oldest daughter. She’s my amazing, in-house talented artist.

 

It was not a pretty combination. In fact, that snafu ended up being the match that lit the powder keg. I won’t go into detail on my reactions.

What I keep trying to tell my husband is that I really like gifts. I was informed a couple of years ago about the Five Love Languages, and what I really appreciate are Words of Affirmation and Receiving Gifts. Like the website says, gifts are not about getting “stuff” or anything fancy or expensive; it’s about what goes into it. I love just little tokens that say something meaningful, or even semi-meaningful. I want to be thought about and have that thought go into that kind of action. My husband and I have discussed the love languages a few times since our introduction to them, and he knows exactly what I really like. Has he succeeded in learning and applying that knowledge? Not so much. (Let me even quote from the site: “A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous — so would the absence of everyday gestures.” Ha! See?!)

My mom says that most men are terrible at gift-giving and that I should just accept that my husband, as great as he is in so many ways, will never be able to surprise me or give me good gifts. I wonder if that’s true. If it is, then why would the people behind the love languages encourage couples to do better at speaking their spouses’ languages? It would be a lost cause. I still have hope it’s possible to change or at least improve a little.

I’d like to simply say, no, I’m not selfish or self-centered; I don’t think I have high expectations. I just want a simple but fairly meaningful gift on special occasions and just cute, sweet little tokens to surprise me throughout the rest of the year. I think I’m worth it. In fact, I need those expressions of love and appreciation to feed me, to fill up my tank so I can keep going, keep super-mothering. I simply can’t run on emotionally empty.

What say you? Are gifts important to you or someone you care about?

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I must have a tendency to brace myself mentally for certain outcomes. When I was preparing to enter college, I had just graduated high school as valedictorian, with stellar grades and test scores and lots of admiration-worthy activities and awards on my university applications. Even so, I already knew that I would no longer be top dog when I got to school, so I kind of worked to switch over my mindset and expectations from being the big fish in a little pond to just an average fish in a very large pond. It worked, apparently; I didn’t feel a need to be top of the class anymore, and I found I was generally comfortable not having that pressure any longer. I finished up college with about a 3.5 GPA and was pleased with that. I did a few activities and extracurriculars and largely made sure to take plenty of time to have fun and enjoy my time at Brigham Young University, in part because I’d been dreaming of going there my whole life and probably in part because I’d not been able to relax and have fun in high school.

Going into parenting, I think I also steeled myself to NOT have certain expectations. I especially did not want to expect my children to look like me or act like me or have the same interests. (Perhaps my husband is going to snicker at this statement, considering how I spend so much time reading with them, but in my heart of hearts I believe it’s true.) I didn’t want them to feel pressure to be a certain way or to live up to expectations that were not their own dreams and interests.

Having said that, I am now finding myself mildly shocked when I find out that they are doing things I did or expressing interests in some things I was interested in long ago but no longer do much with. This morning gave me two opportunities to reflect on my own earlier years.

One is something odd and not even an interest, just a somewhat strange behavior. My oldest was leaving early this morning to go on a long-weekend trip with her high school band. I didn’t really plan to wake up to see her off, but since I did end up opening my eyes at 5:30 a.m., I drifted downstairs to hug my girl and bid her adieu for a few days during which I know I’ll heartily miss her presence. She was making herself some eggs, as she frequently does (a trait she did not get from me; I rarely ate breakfast foods for my morning meal growing up: I preferred leftovers), and she told me, “It was the strangest thing. I started cooking these eggs last night at 12:20. I thought it was 5:20, so I got up and started getting ready. Then I looked at the clock and realized it was only 12:20. I don’t know if I was sleepwalking or what, but it was weird. This morning I wondered if it had been a dream, but I opened the fridge and saw the eggs, and I knew it was real!” I said, “Did I ever tell you I used to do that same thing?” No. “Well, when I was a freshman, I woke up and did that same thing a few times; I would start getting ready, then eventually look at the clock and it would register in my brain that it was only 3 a.m. and I’d go back to bed. One time I washed my hair before realizing, and since I didn’t have a blow dryer and it was the middle of the night, I tried desperately to get it to dry by lying over the heating vent.” I told her that after a few times of that happening, I started to take a moment when I first woke up to REALLY look at the clock to make sure I noticed the real time. Eventually I stopped doing that.

It was just an odd feeling to have my daughter experience the same strange phenomenon.

Later this morning, at a more reasonable hour of the day, I trooped off to the county office of education building to watch a large group of elementary school students gather to participate in the “Poetry and Prose” performances. It wasn’t a competition, but it felt a bit like one; the children were all put into small groups and sent off to rooms with judges who gave them feedback on their recitations of poems. My fourth-grader decided a few months back that she’d like to be involved, so she’s been working on a poem (Shel Silverstein, of course) to perform. (Unfortunately, I have not been as involved as I would have liked, with everything else I’ve had going on; it’s right up my alley, and I could have been helpful to her. This I regret.) Sitting in that room watching her and about 10 other students perform their poems was eerily deja-vu for me. For four years in high school, I participated in the speech team, going to competitions around the state giving speeches and performing snippets of plays either individually or with a partner. What was unnerving was seeing all the same theatrical affectations I used to sit and watch in one classroom after another, four years in a row, for most weekends from October to March. These kids were younger, but it was the same stuff: unnatural, exaggerated gestures that had been taught them and rehearsed and affected speech rhythms that sound somehow “professional.” Some of the kids were genuinely, naturally talented, and it was fun to watch them. But even some of those kids had been coached too much so they were just a bit unnatural. The judge ate it up. And that reaction just got to me like fingernails on a chalkboard. I hadn’t felt that feeling in 20-plus years and it came back to me in a flash: that annoyance at watching those kinds of too-rehearsed performances. Sure, anything like that has to be practiced over and over to be good, but a really, really talented actor or performer makes it look natural, as if they never thought about what they were doing or how they would be moving or saying things. And here these adults are turning these impressionable young kids into unnatural performers. Argggggghhhh. I honestly wanted to run away screaming and never look back.

But this same daughter has just this week told me she’d love to get into acting, and she confessed a few days ago, “I want to be a STAR.” So if she wants that, I’ll help her. But we’re going to stay away from the people who would introduce the far-too-exaggerated stuff into her repertoire. I think it’s time to start looking forward to next year and talking about how to make things entertaining but natural.

At any rate, it’s not just the fact that my girls have now, against all expectations, done things I’ve done; what’s interesting are my reactions. I was amused and surprised by my oldest’s nocturnal preparations, and at my 9-year-old’s activity I was just viscerally kicked in the gut by memories of how I felt at speech competitions. It’s amazing how memories can be so strong, the emotions attached so vivid, after being buried for decades.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised; after all, a decade ago, I did write a whole book about how my little girl was reminding me of moments from my childhood. How life comes full circle still astonishes me, though, and it will again and again while I live it.

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