Another year, another Mother's Day
Ah, Mother's Day, 2021. Many of us are still not able to hug our moms nor celebrate them in person, as the pandemic maintains its hold here at home and abroad. Although there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it remains a distance away, so in the meantime, we continue forward, trying to maintain some semblance of 'normalcy' and sanity during a crazy time. For me, part of going forward requires a bit of reflection so that I have a better sense of what works (and what doesn't). So I'll take a very brief pause here to consider my most recent year as a mom, then carry on.
From my last post, you'll know that my bonsai is "shuffling off this mortal coil" (Hamlet, by William Shakespeare), therefore I've been looking at photos of my plants in happier days. This is my echeveria in bloom. Thank goodness for life's little surprises. For more, check out National Geographic's incredible time-lapse view of blooming flowers.
It took a while for me to become comfortable acknowledging myself when I've expended a lot of effort and done well or knocked something out of the park. Chalk that up to an upbringing that espoused some elements of the "Tiger Mom" method of raising children, one that did not adequately celebrate the effort and successes, and instead placed disproportionate emphasis on what was construed as "not good enough." This has informed how I raise my kids, or rather, how I try not to raise my kids - while I do have high expectations of them, the expectation revolves more around the effort and care that's directed toward an undertaking, as opposed to its outcome. This is not to say that my kids and I don't butt heads - sometimes, I've been exasperated by an ornery child telling me, "I don't want to do it." Uh, excuse me - you're going to practise piano because you have demonstrated an ability to play it and you committed to an exam that's happening in two weeks, one that you ideally won't fail because of lack of effort. You don't get to do the equivalent of telling me to 'talk to the hand.' HMPH.
But I digress. Changing the narrative of "not good enough" to "you tried your best, now learn from your trials and tribulations, and know better for next time" took some time, and it's still a work in progress. I will say that as a mom, there are so many moments I've marked as a MOTY moment - that's "Mother of the Year," the antithetical self-talk device I use to begrudgingly acknowledge sub-par mom moments - but the good thing is that I don't beat myself up over them. So this means that I actually have a few things that I can include on "The Good" list 😉. Behold, said list:
I have not completely lost my sanity.
Reclusive cat lady? No. Excessive shopping on the Home Shopping Network? No. (But I will confess to more online shopping, only because, well, pandemic, and the enjoyment factor of walking through a mall and people-watching has drastically diminished with COVID-19. Those were the good ol' days, when you could meet a friend and stroll freely amongst pretty or fun stuff...). I think my marbles are relatively intact. I'll chalk it up to: maintaining some of my friendships (um, I haven't been a good friend to all, but it's not because I haven't been thinking of you!); doing enough physical activity so that 1. my old lady back pain is not debilitating, 2. karate is no longer something I used to do, and 3. after nearly a year of joggers, I'm able to pull on my jeans (it was a scary proposition, putting those jeans on - it could have gone either way 😬); and therapy for some mental health TLC. It's good for my kids to know that their mom is still reliably sane when the world doesn't make sense at times.
Move along. Nothing to look at here. We're all good.
My kids still speak to me.
I consider this a major win. With one kid tweening hard and another who is a teen with a serious dash of old soul/old timey old man mixed in, mothering is more of a minefield these days. Kids are dealing with so much - it's hard enough just being a kid and growing up under normal circumstances, never mind doing this amidst the uncertainty of attending school (or not, as restrictions or isolation on account of potential contact exposure may dictate) during a pandemic, not being able to maintain social connections as easily, and not being able to do normal kid things (can't even do a Slurpee run, because the local 7-Eleven is no more 😔). Throw in a growing awareness of social inequalities and political chaos laid bare by the pandemic, and now you've got kids trying to navigate and understand a world that is bonkers. Fortunately, though, rather than withdraw into themselves, my kids talk. I'm open about the fact that I don't have all the answers, but just being able to share their concerns, queries and thought processes means that I know where they're at - I know that at that moment, they feel safe enough to let me in (an occasionally disorienting place, the minds of tweens and teens...), and that they are potentially open to some guidance. Whew. I'm still relevant in their world. 👵🏻
We're still able to laugh.
Thank goodness for levity and the ability to find humour in a situation. I've found that as the kids have gotten older, mild irreverence and cheekiness have crept into our exchanges, and their ability to pick up on the absurdity of certain situations has lightened up some of our conversations on darker topics. Don't think though that high-brow humour is all that happens in our household - with a tween and teen in the house, there is no escaping the jokes related to bodily emissions and odours. Yes, there is a fart book in our esteemed library, and a bottle of Poo-Pourri sits primly in the kids' bathroom, primed for active duty. Whole different meaning to the phrase, "potty mouth." 😉
In fact, I think we're closer as a family. Most days.
After lockdown and restrictions forced families into close quarters over the past year, cabin fever remains a definite phenomenon that has frayed many relationships, and understandably so. Everybody needs their space in some form or another, whether that be a simple soak in the tub, a good book and/or glass of wine at the end of the day, or a few child-free days. Although I could have done a better job of carving aside some me-time this past year (being a student ate up a huge chunk of my days, which my youngest made sure to point out 😳), I can safely say that I'm not sick of my kids, and that we're a pretty tight little unit now. We have our routines, we have an understanding of the household expectations when the kids are at home for school (but for the life of me, the number of times I have to point out the fingerprints on the fridge door handle???? Damn you, grubby fingers and stainless steel!), and most importantly, we like being together, knowing that we have fun and we have each other's backs. Who knows how long this will last? I'll just be grateful for it in the meantime.
"My mother can have you eliminated with one phone call.”
For those of you who are too young to have experienced the hilarity of The Golden Girls, Sophia Petrillo, played by Estelle Getty, lived with her daughter Dorothy along with Rose and Blanche, women of a certain age who were previously married. I did not take any parenting cues from Sophia, as the caustic wit and irreverence of this Sicilian matriarch with a thick Brooklyn accent (and possible mob ties...) would likely scar my kids for life. But man, does she crack me up. For all her cantankerous barbs, there is no question that she's got Dorothy's back.
I'm a yeller. And I don't have a good excuse for it - some families are large, which might prompt members to yell to be heard, while other families are boisterous and loud because it's encoded in their DNA. I'm one of four kids, all close in age, which might explain a bit of the yelling, but not really - my brother is a pretty quiet guy until he's not, and that only happens when a major transgression has happened or imminent catastrophe is afoot. I definitely remember how my temper got the better of me when I was young, but with advancing age, I've mellowed a bit. The universe, however, has a sick sense of humour sometimes, so I was blessed with a child with a temper that's more volatile than mine ever was. Oh my. BATTLE ROYALE. I'm not proud of some of the arguments we've had - often times, the post mortem reveals more about my hope that my kids will turn out to be fantastic human beings, at odds with my fear of messing up and the kids turning out to be mean and lazy non-contributors to society. Rather extreme ends on the spectrum of humanity, no?
Conflict resolution was not my strong suit while growing up, but I've become better at acknowledging when I'm wrong, at apologizing, and at ensuring that the lines of communication are not broken, such that my kids know that even if I'm not pleased with their choices or behaviours, I still love them (an occasionally tenuous proposition at times, because really, sometimes that can of whup-a** is quite appealing...). My kids came by their stubborn disposition honestly, so I understand the challenge of resolving conflict and thus try to model ways to navigate misunderstandings in a healthy and hopefully less hurtful way. And that includes not yelling. We're not always successful, but I think if my kids can come up to me after a blowup and speak with me in an effort to get on the same page, we're not doing too badly.
Being a mom continues to be the most rewarding/exasperating/frustrating/beautiful thing I've ever done. I suspect I sound a bit like a broken record, as I was likely thinking the same thing last year. If there is anything different about Mother's Day this year, the past year of pandemic notwithstanding, it's the awareness of how much my kids have grown, and how our relationships have evolved into something more meaningful, a bit more mature, and definitely more complex. All in a good way. When my kid talks to me about how he'll try a different approach to speaking about contentious issues so that greater understanding can be facilitated, I'm struck by the personal growth that must happen for such insight to occur. So I'll give myself a small pat on my back with my rubber arm (not a big one, because I can't take full credit for my kids becoming who they're becoming), knowing that I have done ok as a mom. So far.
"Oh, I don't hate you for failing. I love you for trying."
- Marge Simpson
*Note that Marge is also responsible for the following gems, which I won't keep in my repertoire of mom-isms...
Marge: Shame on you two creeps!
Bart: It’s your fault for giving birth to my archenemy.
Lisa: At least I was planned!
Marge: Stop it! No one was planned.
Marge: Honey, you could be popular. You’ve just got to be yourself. In a whole new way.
Happy Mother's Day to all of you who have held on with unimaginable strength while your child faces cancer, who have held on to your kid as they try to make sense of their friend's unexpected death, and who have weathered the sting of hurtful words from a kid who has no idea of the hardships that you face on their behalf. Happy Mother's Day to all of you who comfort and champion your child as they face discrimination within their own school hallways, and who make sure that your kid knows that no matter what happens, they can always count on you, for anything and everything under the sun. Happy Mother's Day to all of you whose hearts are big enough for not only your own children, but also for my own kids, because you know that raising kids is a tough gig, and sometimes I need to lean on you, my mom friends.
And Happy Mother's Day to my mom, and so many of your moms who have been at distance for a long time. With each year that passes, I understand so much more of your strength, your sacrifice, and your devotion. I am beyond grateful for you. ❤️
Until next time,