life lessons, motherhood

TO MOTHERS DAY

I was raised with lots of expectations leading me to a lifetime of feelings of not good enough over my lifetime. Expectations are a double edged sword. We set them and expect. We expect certain behaviors, we expect performance, we even expect people to show up and act like they should act based on our own set of standards and values. In a work environment, this is standard practice and is a necessary piece of the puzzle we call careers. In our families, though, at times, expectations can also have layers of guilt attached and this is when they can turn into something other than what was originally intended.

In my family, when I was a kid, there was always an expectation of being good. What does this even mean? We use this one liner well into our adult lives when we say things like, “I’ve been good,” as it relates to avoiding the enjoyment of a nice big bowl of ice cream when we rationalize the stop on a warm summer day. “I’ve been good,” we say when we have decided to stop doing something that could interrupt us mentally or physically like going to the gym, abstaining from the nightly routine of a big glass of red after a long hard day at the office or making a big purchase when trying to say on a strict budget.

I’ve been good is a phrase so easily tossed around when our brains need to change some behavior that may have otherwise been helpful to our beings and we need a rationale for the change. At least this is me and my patterns. It is all too easy to blame this belief system on how I was raised, but the truth of the matter is, expectations are set so we have something to reach. At times they may seem unobtainable but we keep trying to climb anyway. We fall off the horse and we either walk away or we get back on and try again. Sometimes the very expectations that are set are subtle. In my memory much of our experiences are subjective when we look back. Two siblings can live under the same roof and have two completely opposing memories of one experience. I linked an interesting podcast below on the subject of memory from Malcolm Gladwell that will surely question your own memories.

When it came to birthdays and Mother’s Day, I was expected, as many of us were, to give at least a card and as I got older send one in a timely manner. This seems reasonable on paper, but for me, because there was an unwritten code that this was something I was supposed to do, often I would forget or be late in getting the card in the mail. This would cause hurt feelings, causing me to feel like a failure as a daughter, guilty as charged for missing the boat, lacking thoughtfulness and consideration for the person who gave birth to me.

I could never seem to get it right. Mother’s Day is always on a Sunday and if I mailed the card on a Monday, it would surely arrive in time. But Monday seemed to early, so Tuesday or Wednesday would be my target date so the card would arrive in perfect timing for Sunday. But I wanted the card to arrive on Saturday because for some reason earlier than that seemed contrived. At least in my monkey brain of aiming for perfection and then finding myself forgetting to mail the card completely until it was too late thus arriving after Mother’s Day defeating the whole holiday all together.

Clearly there was more to the simple act of sending a card here, years of expectations all fully present in all of this thinking. As easy as it sounds to get birthdays and Mother’s Day right, one slip up and you get it wrong and two people end up feeling bad defeating the purpose. Perhaps if my relationship with my mother hadn’t been so tumultuous over the years, these issues would be non existent. I never forget my son’s birthday or anyone I am deeply connected with. Ironically, this entire problem was solved when my mother stopped talking to me and in some ways it was freedom from the pressure of not getting it right.

The true irony though is not sending my mother a Mother’s Day card when she wasn’t speaking to me became almost painful. So at year two, I sent her a blank one that I had hand written simply, “You are still my mother,” and sent it on its way. In all of the years of those silent thunderous expectations, this card was probably the best Mother’s Day card I had sent. Because it was my own thoughts and heart that sent it, not Hallmark’s, and not my mother’s. Mine. My decision, my kindness.

When I had my own child, I made a decision to not set the barre for any of this nonsense. If my son made me a card, sent me a card, wrote a few lines with a stubby pencil on a piece of scrap paper, simply said Happy Mother’s Day or none of the above, this one day did not summarize his lack of love and adoration for me. I would not allow one day of the year to dictate the other three hundred and sixty four. The feelings of guilt in not getting it right and my own mother’s hurt expressions over the years would not be something I would put on my son. Ever. And I think because of this deliberate act, I have been the recipient of lovely handwritten stubby penciled notes over the years that have more meaning than any five dollar sappy card. As a result I have had lots of lovely Mother’s Days and I enjoy them so much because I know that when if time comes when my son could get married and have children, these Mother’s Days will have a shift for sure. So they are precious and appreciated.

I write this today so that we can remember that days like Mother’s Days are not about professing a years worth of maternal adorations for all of our hard work. If your child forgets to do something special, or not as special as you would have liked, could it be possible to just allow this and use the day to remember how lucky we are that we actually have children? Maybe we could choose to not say anything, not show hurt or disappointment but to just show gratitude for the day.

Every single day is special and as my own son gets older, I am more in tune with the privilege of having a healthy child who is still alive and well, who has made it this far so far. This is the best Mother’s Day gift I could ask for. Keeping this in perspective is the lesson from my mother over the years that I have learned the hard way, but my son gets to reap the rewards from.

one of the many lovely Mother’s Days out for a walk with my boy.

Happiest of Mother’s Day to all of you who get to wake up to your child tomorrow. There are so many moms who don’t. Lets try to remember this as we lie hoping for the breakfast in bed or the call that may not come at exactly the time you wanted or at all. As my grandmother used to quote frequently, “Those who hath no expectations shan’t be disappointed.” Easier said than done, but perhaps just relishing in the day and using it as an excuse for breaking your own rules, going out for your own ice cream sundae or a walk alone in the park listening to the birds and celebrating your own goodness as a mother. Enjoy the glorious day and cherish the little people we have raised. This is something to celebrate for sure.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/free-brian-williams/id1119389968?i=1000413184954
motherhood

LETTING HIM GO

In therapy there is a term used to describe the healthy separation between people, especially a parent and a child. Differentiation is the word that says you did a good job, you have a healthy separation from each other and basically the nest can be disassembled and rebuilt differently. Like that hilarious commercial when the son goes off to college and the parents tearfully bid goodbye then run into the house to turn the kid’s bedroom into a Jacuzzi bathroom. Differentiation allows the natural separation to be normal, tearful yes, but a healthy one.

There are lots of little steps leading up to the true and finite land of differentiation and all of them lay the groundwork, (hands in prayer position here) for the final move out to their own apartment or house at some later time. But differentiation is more than a physical change of scenery, it is psychological and human too. It is the proverbial disconnect of needing to parent, to mother and allow your child to parent himself. Leaving him for the first time at day care, putting him on the school bus to kindergarten, teaching him to swim and letting him go into the ocean for his first time while you watch from the shoreline, the first day of middle school and high school, hugging them after their first broken heart, being there at their first strike out at a playoff game. The list goes on and on and they all build off of each other each time gaining momentum and strength for later. Later. When the emotional bond between you shifts and though you love each other immensely, you don’t need each other for survival, physical or emotional. You can still have the most open and connected heart, but you are ok with yourself enough to separate and fly, free and healthy. Free from issues of abandonment or over parenting that may find you in therapy later on struggling with your own relationships. Differentiation says I love you, you love me but we are not so intertwined in each other’s lives that we either can’t separate or we can’t wait to separate. It is the more neutral in the middle of it, the sweet spot of the hard worked results of parenting well, or as well as you thought at the time.

I understood this concept only recently as both a daughter and a partner. It has taken me all of these years to truly comprehend the true definition of its power and once I recognized the true sense of differentiation, I welcomed it into the life of my son and me wholeheartedly. He has actually taught me differentiation by his own sense of self. Another unexpected gift of being a mother and a parent for the last twenty one years. Differentiation is also the ability to be able to disagree without that volcanic surge causing a behavior that in retrospect certainly serves no one. I would also call this choosing not to take the bait. The bait being when a family member says something to get a response out of you, usually one that causes that previous mentioned surge. My son and I haven’t had that experience and I don’t anticipate it; I would say we have a pretty healthy mother son relationship, but I won’t really know this until he navigates his own relationship in the future. Relationships are the unique viewfinders we get to look through to see what our parent child relationships were really made of.

In anticipation of my son’s trip to Israel last week, he had to get to NYC the day before as he was going to meet a friend. He is a mature twenty-one and this was as simple as getting on a train and heading south where his friend agreed to meet him and escort him back to his house in Queens. As I write this from the position of After, it is a no brainer. For some reason though, I was filled with anxiety, stress, worry and no matter how much meditation and self talk I did, my heart would not stop racing and the anxious thoughts would not settle. Where was this coming from? I finally realized that I had two very definitive travel experiences involving NYC and when I traced back to the exact moments of those, I was able to at least give some credence to my angst. This had nothing to do with his own experience, it was my stuff from my past that was informing this present moment. Wild.

When I was twenty three I went to Paris by myself for a month, flying over with someone I worked with where we would stay together for three days and then part ways. I had a blast and learned so much about myself in this experience. This was before credit cards for twenty year olds, before cell phones, before Google maps. Just me and Rick Steves’ book on Paris for 10.00 a day or something like that. When I came home I had a hundred dollars in my pocket and the flight was late. I took a bus from JFK to Penn station and realized there were no trains that late and I had no way to get back to Rhode Island. Penn Station in 1989 was frightening and there was no way I should have been near the place at 11:30 pm looking like a vulnerable young woman. Some man came up to me and offered to help me with my bags and in my stupor, I agreed as I made my way to the taxi stand to fortunately go to a friend’s house who when I called on the payphone answered and told me to come there immediately. When the taxi driver saw this man with my bag, he began yelling at him that he was ruining tourism and that he was trying to take advantage of me which promptly forced me back into a quick wake up. What an idiot I was. But at the same time, I felt like there was some higher force looking out for me. I safely got to my friend’s apartment and all was well.

The second experience was much later. I was headed to NYC on the train from Providence to attend a training seminar and I was to arrive for a 10:00 am class on a Tuesday on Park Avenue. Excited to be in New York I vowed to myself that I would visit more often as it was such a short train ride. I remember the day and date well. It was September 4, 2001 exactly one week before September 11th at exactly the same time I arrived at Penn Station. I was struck by the random dates and times we land someplace or don’t. I hadn’t been to New York for at least five years and there I was exactly one week by pure chance earlier then the worst terrorist event of my lifetime. All of this showed up to the table unannounced, long tucked away with cobwebs in the attic as I helped my son get ready for his trip. This is amazing to me as it proves to me that traumatic events never leave us and make their reappearances like a well planned surprise party.

My son and I made it to the train station with him not rolling his eyes even. I kept telling him that my nervousness had nothing to do with my trust in his ability to navigate and he reminded me that he has lots of outside US travel experience. The irony was that I was not even the least anxious about him going to Israel. An area the size of New Jersey surrounded by countries that hate them, it was that New York thing. This is why I knew my worry was not about Michael. It was my stuff and I had to go deep in the vault to be able to say a normal goodbye to him as I brought him to the train station last Sunday. I hugged him and kissed him more than he would have liked but he allowed it. No I didn’t go into the train station with him and wait, this was as much about him leaving as it was about me letting him leave, more differentiation steps for the likely final one of him really leaving at some point in time. All normal. All healthy. All the way it is supposed to be between a parent and a child when you get it right. I got in my car after saying my final goodbye and sobbed my eyes out like I had just put him on the kindergarten bus for the first time. I know now that the tears were the final release of the grief I must have felt in those unique experiences. He made it safely to his friend’s and is in Israel now having what I suspect is the time of his life. Just how it should be. AMEN.

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TWENTY ONE

TWENTY ONE

I was sitting on the dark non descript seat of the school bus, front row, of course, taking the practice ride with my son who was about to embark on his first great adventure. Kindergarten. I too would be starting my own adventure of sorts, letting him out of my sight and delivering him to the hands of public education via a yellow school bus. I looked to my right and saw the same nervous look in the eyes of a tiny blonde woman who was sitting next to her blonde son and we made eye contact. Kind of a knowing relief that we both seemed to be the geeky moms not really looking forward to releasing our children just yet. We made some small talk, introduced the kids and just like that I made my first kindergarten mom friend.

That was sixteen years ago and the kids are still excellent friends and my son, Michael just turned twenty one. A milestone of an age, way more loaded with feelings then the age of one, ten, sixteen or eighteen. Even though his dad, Dave, and I still fully support him as he makes his way through his final junior year of college there is a strong significance to twenty one. It is celebratory, meaningful, filled with doors opening and doors closing. Truly an adult and his life is pretty much out of our hands now. The transition to twenty one feels both energizing and sad for me as his mom, though. It brings up everything before. The kid parties, the trips, the stages of growth, the traumatic events and their losses as well as the celebrations. Everything. Like a full life rewind. Did we do a good job? What will his future be like? Will he get married and have children, will he travel the world, what job lies ahead? I can hear the soundtrack of Doris Day belting out her famous song, Que Sera Sera, whatever will be will be. Past and future thoughts stir like a simmering pot of possibilities. Before twenty one, they were just little popping thoughts, but now that the time is here, he is closer in age to thirty then he is to ten. Lots can happen from now until then. And it feels strange to be the happy and satisfied mother of a well adjusted twenty one year old young man with the world as his oyster.

I am really proud of him, but also really proud of me because this great parental experiment as so many of us know could have gone terribly wrong. He made it, lots of kids don’t make it to twenty one and this alone brings me to my knees in prayer. Based on my own life experience, I am grateful for the lessons my past taught me though because I really believe it could have gone either way, surely. Luck of the draw? I don’t think so. I think, actually I know, that I was a conscious parent as much as I was able to be. Dave was brought up with a set of values making him a great example to me as a parent. This coupled with some great friends, like the small blonde woman on the bus that day, Kerry, and many other kindergarten moms I am still friendly with today who were also strong and grounded parents helped me along the path of being a better parent.

Now as I watch the celebratory drinking that naturally rears its ugly head towards my son, I find myself with a whole new set of worries. You are taking an Uber, right? Remember the conversations we have had about alcohol and the family history as you find your way through the maze, I find myself repeating. Just because you are twenty one now doesn’t mean that you should be buying alcohol for anyone who is not. I remind him like I used to say look both ways before you cross the street, like he is five again and he needs to hear this instruction.

We go out to eat and he orders a glass of Rioja and a dish of venison, he tries the foie gras. Though he is quiet, he is polite, well mannered, he knows how to carry himself, he is well traveled and observant. I like this about him. I like watching my son be the man he had turned into. I know that every single day I get to have him around me is a gift because frankly he can leave anytime. He has a house in Narragansett off campus he shares with three other boys that is near the beach; he doesn’t have to stay home with his parents, but he does. Maybe he is bored, but he doesn’t show it, he shows up for dinner, he says yes when I ask him to go to breakfast and he walks with me as I traipse around town stopping in the shops to say hi to some store owner friends. We love each other, yes, but we genuinely like each other’s company and of all of the surprises of parenting, this one I would say is my favorite. We like each other, enjoy each other. Whether it is just being in the house, me downstairs him upstairs, or going to dinner with Dave and our old friends from my old neighborhood, there is an ease between all of us that makes me take a big satisfied sigh. No one knows what the next twenty one years will bring. This first twenty one has been an excellent start though.

Happiest of Birthdays my son.

I love you.




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NOT THAT BAD

NOT THAT BAD

It seemed like the one liner I heard over and over again after I delivered my son almost twenty one years ago was, “As time goes by, you forget the pain of the delivery and you will want another one.” I definitely forgot the pain of the delivery, but there was no way I wanted another. One was plenty. I knew myself well back at thirty-three and I knew with all of my heart, that I wouldn’t have been a good mother to more than one. And as my son approaches the momentous occasion of twenty-one with the world as his oyster boldly in front of him, I love that decision more every year because I love his being more every year.

As we mothers know, the pain in delivery is only the beginning of motherhood and frankly I am in awe of every mother who decides to do it again. Motherhood was a roller coaster ride of emotions, guilt, joy, worry, panic, love, like, oh my God what have I done and will I ever be able to go the grocery store or take a shower again feelings that moved in and out and up and down and through my heart from one moment to the next. The emotions on any given day varied, challenging my thinking, my esteem, my validity and my abilities in the role of mom, wife, woman and human being.

Another tagline typical of moms with kids that were older than mine was “Wait till they go to kindergarten, school flies by.” Then from the much older moms whose children were my son’s age at the time, “Enjoy every moment, time goes by in a nanosecond.” I couldn’t imagine this when my son was screaming at five pm every night and I couldn’t settle him, no matter what. I never thought that five years would pass until he got to kindergarten, but it did and here we are, junior year in college all of a sudden.Time did go by in a nanosecond. Turns out, time did fly by and it seems to be accelerating every day as I am hungrier to accomplish more and more.

In an odd juxtaposition, breast cancer was like this too. Approaching my first full year of the final reconstruction surgery this September feels in some ways like it did when I had Michael. I have almost forgotten all of the bad parts. The drains, the discomfort, the numbness in my entire upper body, my loss of upper back strength, my self awareness of the fakeness of what is now my very upright and pointy wonder woman boobs that adorn my body like a fifties pin up poster. I finally feel like myself again, only better and it wasn’t that bad.

Now this all being said, I reiterate, I never had chemo, my breast cancer was caught early two times and I have done preventative surgery to take out those pesky ovaries hoping to shut down that wild and untamed estrogen my bad ass body loves to produce. Every single woman is different and by no means is this being written for anyone who is going through this shitty ordeal or has gone through it or has a friend or a sister or a mom who is about to go through this to compare their experience to.

It sucked, it was painful, it was traumatic and awful while I was in the quagmire, but I am still here. And it wasn’t that bad. As I get ready to celebrate the first full year of the last part of my whirlwind ride with my new boobs, I can’t believe it has been a year. Like being a mom to an almost twenty one year old, time has blasted forward in a time travel capsule to another dimension. I have a hunger for learning and writing and creating that I never imagined and I know it is because of this breast cancer experience. There is both a sense of urgency to gain knowledge about so many things I have no knowledge of and I am in awe at the magnitude of what I don’t know. The twist of this urgency though is the calmness and peace I also feel. Panic and fear has left this building I call my body and my non-stop ever working mind. Of course I still have moments of anxious thinking, who doesn’t, but the knowing is a constant that everything works out in the divine right order and the endless lists I love to write get done when they are supposed to.

Perhaps these feelings are the trifecta of new boobs coupled with getting closer to fifty five and having a son turn twenty one… and menopause… and realizing over and over that no one gets out alive. This is humbling as I navigate my way through the maze of my life as calm and joyous as humanly possible. Good Old Dr. Hottie, (remember him?) assured me at the very first, and very frightening at the time, consultation that when this one year mark came, I would look in the mirror and say holy crap, Alayne, those are some seriously awesome tits, (actually he never said that, but he should have). What he said was that it would take a full year to feel like myself again.

What he didn’t say is how much better I feel than I thought I would.

It took me almost five years to feel like myself again when I became a new mom, now Michael heads to the half way mark of college and he has a mom who gets to be alive to witness it. This is the gift and for this, I can’t express enough gratitude.



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PROCESS NOT PERFECTION

PROCESS NOT PERFECTION

There is a famous twelve step quote Progress not Perfection and it’s meaning is significant for perfectionists like me and many women I know. The word PROGRESS though implies achievement so I have switched the word to say PROCESS instead. As I get older I have learned that relationships and life is indeed a process as I learn and continue to work on facets of myself to improve upon. At the same time I try to allow and accept them as they are knowing I when I place my head on my pillow I have been kind in my day. Perfectionism used to be my nemesis and its personality traits are the vaporous results of growing up with alcoholism or any ism for that matter. The need to get it right, the need for the outer veil to look gilded when the inner isn’t quite so. Perfectionism can be debilitating and energizing in the same span of the moment it takes its hold. Many perfectionists don’t even realize that their need to get it better than good enough is a driving force of the perpetual angst they feel as they try to achieve. I sure didn’t. I have struggled with the need for better and best for most of my life. It can be something that helps greatness in a business with the result ultimately ending in a successful company and it can also cause incredible disruption because nothing will ever be good enough. The latter can be the hardest for perfectionists because it is their own inner compass of feeling like nothing will ever be exactly a ten that drives the bus on the long trip with no final place on the map to actually stop and smell the roses.

Breast cancer the first time around started to free me a bit because as I went from doctor to doctor doing my own overachieving research, I realized that no matter how much I learned, how many tests I had, how many doctors I spoke with and google searches I navigated around, I still had breast cancer. Nothing was going to change the stark reality that it was out of my control. Breast cancer told me I am not in control. I can think I am, but none of us are. I can park the bus and take a nice nap in the resting spot coming up on the exit I would have otherwise driven past foot heavy on the accelerator. (unless I had to pee, which would have been highly likely, but if I didn’t I would have flown past onward and onward, no stopping necessary to get to that proverbial destination just around the corner over there some place).

Breast cancer twice sealed the deal, but in the middle of the first one and the second one, my mother decided it would be better if we didn’t speak. Again. Ever.

I prefer you never contact me again. She wrote this to me almost two years ago to the day. Mother’s Day time. My son’s high school graduation time. Between the first diagnosis and the unknown second one. I have written about this in my earlier writings and have done a lot of my work because of this significant event in my life, our lives. There is safety in I prefer you never contact me again. That last sentence may read strangely, but the finality of it and the response it requires is a large bold period at the time, not a comma, not a semicolon, not a dash. My first response besides the traditional sadness and fury one might expect was the word relief. It is no fun to be in a relationship with someone who you are on constant eggshell walking with; it is not a walk in the park to be on guard and feeling like everything I say has to be carefully orchestrated as to not invoke a negative. It is not enjoyable to be in a relationship with someone who seems completely disinterested in everything you say all the time, like you are a nuisance and like they are watching the clock to see when its over. This was how I always felt around my mother and it turns out, she seemed to feel the same way around me. Oil and water to say the least.

The second breast cancer diagnosis was actually easier because she wasn’t speaking to me, I just went through the entire experience without her, and instead surrounded myself with all of the women who have supplemented my mother for me. There are many and I am blessed with the superchick tribe I get to call my pretend mothers and sisters. But in the sadness of the reality, they are not my mother. So at the time of my grandfather’s one hundred year birthday party this past November, as I sat on the beach one of the days afterwards, an entire letter came to me in my head to write to her. Like the many eulogies that have come through me in the past, I scribbled it quickly to get it out of me and when I got back to his house, I feverishly typed it not knowing at the time if I would send it. So it sat. The fact that it came to me on my brother’s twenty third anniversary of his own passing because of cancer does not go unnoticed here. Death anniversaries are capable of this, bringing up unfinished business and previously thought surrendered emotion.

When I got home, I decided to mail it old school. The words were kind, gentle, understanding, but also truthful and direct and bare. They needed to be said and I said them as eloquently and heartfelt as I could. There is an old Indian saying that I have often referred to when I have needed to have courageous conversation as my social worker dearest mama friend, Karen calls it.

SHOW UP

BE PRESENT

SPEAK YOUR TRUTH

DON’T BE ATTACHED TO THE OUTCOME

The reason for the bold fourth line is because this is the hardest one to have to deal with. It really means LET GO OF CONTROL, EXPECTATIONS, IT IS NOT ABOUT THE REPLY. Like an eager child though, it is a natural feeling to be hopeful that you will get the fantasy reply you dream of or any reply for that matter. This wasn’t the point though. The point was to let my mother know that her request was not something I agreed with. That I honored it to let the boiling water reduce to a slow simmer, to give it the time it needed, but that it wasn’t the finality she may have hoped for. I am not even sure it is what she wanted when she hit the send button that contained those seven words that made up the sentence difficult to unsend.

It took her awhile but she did write me back, and this started a very very light dialogue as we began our dance of reconnection. Distant, both physically as she lives in Alabama, and mentally as the fragility of our connection is like a frayed wire being slowly and carefully wrapped back up in electrical tape.

I decided this year to send her a Mother’s Day Card. Mother’s Day is difficult when the Hallmark version doesn’t match your own. So I created my own, handwritten in one of the beautiful cards a client of ours draws.

You are still my mother. I wrote. Thinking of you this Mother’s Day.

Process not Perfection. Baby steps on a path that will never complete other than the kind truth of the millions of pebbles sprinkled along the way. This is good enough and this is what makes my Mother’s Day this year better. Not only because I get to spend it with my son in the way we have defined for ourselves over the last twenty years, but because my mother and I are at least making an attempt in the way it works for us, throwing the pebbles towards the middle hoping they don’t take out an eye, but land gently at each other’s feet to keep the path open.


Happy Mother’s Day out there to all of you Moms whether you are one, have one or act like one.
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FLOCK OF SEAGULLS

FLOCK OF SEAGULLS

Avery! Avery! AVERY! The impatient mom stood there, primary color buckets and shovels in hand, bathing suit tucked under army green shorts and a tank top. Her voice sounded breathless, loaded, followed by a pause with a capital P. Avery with her super emphasis on the A, was being called out by a voice gaining crescendo as Avery’s mom tried to somewhat patiently lure her no more than three year old daughter away from the area where less than a minute ago had encouraged her to go.

Avery, Bradley! Go see the seagulls! The lone mom voiced happily to her little ones as they made their way to the beach this early morning. The two little ones tip toed at first towards the semi resting flock of seagulls until the birds caught wind of the little cherubs acting like lioness and immediately went into flight. This caused Avery and Bradley to storm into them running like all children at the beach do. The seagulls of course flew away likely annoyed as their morning peace was disrupted promptly, but they were used to this cat and mouse game. Chasing seagulls is one of the oldest childhood beach pastimes. Children are fascinated with trying to catch them thinking they may be lucky to actually touch one.

Avery! Avery! Avery! Bradley! Three times for the girl, one time for the older brother who was likely about six, Come this way! The mom likely didn’t realize that less then three minutes ago she just instructed her children to head the opposite way and they are not on grown up time. Trying to distract them back towards her so she could finally sit down on the beach on this not really a beach day after all. Trying again, she squealed in a voice that didn’t sound normal to me, “Look at the white seashell I found!” Avery was not taking the bait. She was in the midst of a flock of flying and agitated seagulls- a white seashell was too tame for little Miss Avery who at almost three clearly had a will of her own. Mom, starting to sound a little impatient with a tone that was easily recognizable to all who were in close proximity was thinking that she was in charge by her incessant shout outs. She wasn’t and anyone listening could clearly hear that Avery was never going to be the obedient and rule following daughter like her older brother.

The observation took me about three minutes. I am a self proclaimed untrained expert in mother and daughter interactions especially at the beach because this is where the family dynamic unfolds. This was where my family dynamic with my own mother started in 1968, right out in the open for the world to see when you think no one is watching. The beach experience has so much expectation in families especially here on the white sands of the “most beautiful beach in America” Siesta Key. This former lovely old school styled beach has turned into Disney World with its contrived picnic spots and signage directing beachgoers everywhere, but it is still magnificent once you make your way. Florida has become one giant Disney experience from the moment you step into their airport and take the tram to the main area. It is like we need to be told everything and can’t possibly figure out how to get from here to there without some happy sign pointing us there. The only semi advantage of the beach metamorphosis is the gargantuan parking area that has plenty of spots now. But I love this beach and I love Florida especially in March when New England is expecting eighteen inches of snow this week.

This mom today calling Avery about twenty times and watching Avery tune her out was like a study in a childhood behavior class. Avery has already learned that it is not her name she will choose or not choose to respond to but the tone of which her name is projected. This is so obvious to this quiet female observer getting to spy on this early budding relationship from the vantage point of the ghost of Christmas Future.

Mother Daughter relationships are a precarious balance of emotion. Love, we hope, is always the underlying energy, but that is for the mature and calm mothers who perhaps learned this from their own mom examples. Often the emotion of love is laced with a rickety balance of power, control and sometimes jealousy and this is when those relationships go awry. What constitutes a healthy mother and daughter relationship from my viewpoint is the release of those three dynamics of power, control and jealousy that frequently come out on autopilot. The healthy relationship is instead when love prevails, unconditional love where children feel safe and able to make mistakes as well as rebel knowing they will still be loved. If moms can offer this up on a sliver platter, it makes for a stronger mama and ultimately a way better mother daughter connection. This is all easy for me to say. My personal experience is based on my own challenging one with my mother where love was used as control and was a meager piece of the quadrant. The other three- control, jealousy and power had a much larger piece of the pie. Love in my world was demonstrated by material things as well as food, so it is no wonder I have struggled with money and food issues for the first part of my life. Seldom were the feelings of affection and trust used as the base of support that builds the foundation of a healthy connection. This base of support creates the foundation that ultimately allows for the literal stories to be built above.

Does this mom even know that a complete stranger already feels sympathy for her tiny daughter? She would likely be horrified to know that this is my observation. Maybe none of it is accurate; after all I am making a sweeping judgment in less than five minutes and maybe they actually have a really loving connection that will blossom. My experience with my own mother and our tumultuous and mostly irreparable relationship is my guide on the beach always. I will never know what will become of the dynamics of Avery and her mom and their future that lies ahead. There is something that I identify with though every time I see a mom have a less than patient tone at the beach. It definitely is a trigger that reminds me of my own past with Ann and as much as I have a positive beach memory with my mother from my childhood, I also know that our relationship was never to be the one that most daughters hope for. The only satisfaction I have though is my deep awareness of what went wrong so I could be sure that my mothering of my son would be what went right. This I am sure of.

As Avery finally made her way to the lame seashell, I could see her looking back at the lure of the wild seagulls flying, the wind in her hair and the sparkle in her eye and I knew at that moment as I watched her that just like me, Avery would be more than just fine.

a family photo i came upon from September 1964, my mother in the green dress would have been three months pregnant with me. My father is to her right and my grandparents are in the center. Uncle and aunt to the left. My grandfather was 47 (and he is 100 now) and my grandmother was 44. My parents were 20! the same age as my son is now. Married and pregnant, it is no wonder my parents struggled being grownups.
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NOT ALWAYS ME

NOT ALWAYS ME

I learned many life-changing concepts from attending Alanon meetings over my last thirty years as an in and out participant. One of the first ones is that I am not the center of the universe. Drats. My mother was right, though her perpetual phrase to me was, “You think the world revolves around you.” Her tone was that of a woman who couldn’t believe that she could have a daughter who would be so bold as to consider this as a possibility.

I always wanted to say, “You mean, I am not?” But I knew better than to back talk to the powerful Oz known as Ann, my mother. That reply would have likely been matched with a fiery slap across the face and a look of rage I can still stir up in my vision forty years later. The reminder as I consider the memory is the walk on eggshells I grew used to as a daughter of a somewhat functioning mostly unpredictable alcoholic parent. It has taken me years to realize that I am not in the forefront of most people’s minds and most people are not thinking about me when I am not around. In fact I am not that important at all. People have their own lives to contemplate and mull over and I am not likely in those contemplations. This is adult child of alcoholic parent 101, not being the center of the universe.

For some reason, the crackily eggshell sounds in our ears, hearts and souls is because of the moodiness that often comes with the parent who drinks to numb out whatever demons need the mute button. There are lots of common denominators in the people who show up to Alanon meetings and the life lessons I learned there for free have been life saving as well as life changing. Forgiveness, kindness, patience, reasonable behavior, reasonable expectations, consistency and truth, and the release of self-aggrandizement. Apologizing, not having to be right or perfect, vulnerability, and the list goes on.

Over the years I have ebbed and flowed between north and south of attending meetings and staying clear because sometimes I get meeting’d out. Other times in the past when my mother was both talking to me and visiting me, I would attend a meeting before and after to keep me sane and calm because the triggers would start usually from the first phone call with the date of her arrival. This would make me feel bad. I mean who wants to visit someone who needs to attend Alanon meetings before and after their visit? And truth be told, who wants to be visited by someone who creates that need in the first place. Alcoholism is a tumultuous ride either as the driver or the passenger.

I can usually spot the daughters of them by their common theme of perfectionism and Type A need for success, and the need to be the life of the party and center of attention. We have this innate belief system of never being good enough and as a result no one around is either. It is miraculous I was able to raise a functioning child who is my favorite human being, kind hearted and on the path to a successful life and who I love immensely. It is impossible for me to consider not loving him, not wanting him in my life like my mother has done with me. She has such a skewed vision of how I have shown up in her life and I think that at this point, there really is nothing that can be done to change the view. I accept it actually because though I have made many mistakes, ultimately I have been a daughter looking for a mother who was not parented with the love she needed.

What I do know is that it is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who is not willing to at least take some of the responsibility of the part they played in its dysfunction. Alcoholism, in whatever shape or form it takes, is a vaporous fluid energy that winds its way into the path of relationships and makes both the alcoholic and the non alcoholic respond to each other in behaviors that are less than helpful. Anyone who is in a relationship with someone who drinks enough to make them Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde knows what I mean and would likely benefit from Alanon. What I learned in those meetings was that the only person I can change is me. This in itself was a game changer for someone who used to use language like “If only s/he would stop drinking….” The first time I heard the idea that I was the main component of the party who needed to make some changes and stop the madness, I couldn’t believe my ears. As I leaned into the guiding light of the twelve steps, I found myself applying these steps not just to my relationships with the alcoholics, but to everything in my path.

If I were to summarize the lessons into one word, it would be CHOICES. Every thought, every action is all a choice. How I behave, how I communicate, my choice to be pissed off or happy as a clam, to be kind or snarky, to release people in my life with bad behavior or to keep them hanging around hoping they will change, to smile or to frown, to say I am sorry or to withhold love with resentment and negative thoughts are all choices. The end result is not about the other person; it is about the effect it has on me and my own heart and spirit. This is the gem of Alanon and likely all twelve step programs. The shining light of joy that comes from knowing forgiveness is not about giving up the need to prove I am right or wrong, forgiveness is not to put an arrow through the ego, it is to release the ego and to feel whole. I have forgiven Ann and I have as a result forgiven myself. This is not to say or know whether she has forgiven me — this is not the point of forgiveness. We are unlikely going to have a kum-ba-ya moment where we run into each other’s arms sobbing with emotion realizing our errors.

And this is ok. This is oddly ok. Once I reached back our to her, I had made a decision that whatever communication we ended up having, I would show up with an empty piece of luggage approaching the conversation like it was the first day of a meeting between two long lost acquaintances getting reacquainted. As I have traversed this rocky road of one of the most important relationships of our lives, mother and child, and been both the daughter of a parent who does not enjoy her child as well as a parent who immensely enjoys her own child, I have learned so much. I have broken the chains for my son to be a better parent if he so chooses to take the frightening and exhilarating road we call parenting.

I am enough and I know this not for my ego, but because I have done the work and have learned from my mistakes. I am a stronger more complete woman because of them. Hallelujah! Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and each time expecting different results. This is what I learned in Alanon. One of my favorite all time Alanon phrases is, “It is like trying to buy a loaf of bread at a hardware store.” Children of Alcoholics tend to keep going back for more- even if it is not a healthy more- hoping, praying, looking for just that crumb of love we hoped would come if we just acted better, sent the better gift, the more sparkly and timely birthday card. The loaf of bread is never going to be at the hardware store. When we finally realize the only person we need to show up for is ourselves and that is enough.


hanging out with the love of my life, my son. #luckymama
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YOU ARE SO AWESOME

YOU ARE SO AWESOME

Headed into Barnes and Noble yesterday afternoon to stock up on some books for an employee’s baby shower today and wow, how books have changed. First off I walked by about a thousand toys and games and puzzles, lots of Star Wars action figures and Lego sets mostly with a defined gender lean as usual. Lego doesn’t seem to get the shift necessary these days and that the “girl” lego sets don’t need to be a superhero or a Barbie camper copy. I thought they were past that by now, but I digress because I wasn’t at a toy store, but a book store and was quickly becoming disappointed that I didn’t go to my favorite local independent store instead.

As I made my way past the toy aisle there were pink and purple and almost sparkly books screaming positivity at me. I AM AWESOME, FEMINIST BABY, (yes I swear) there were books everywhere with the YOU ARE PERFECT JUST AS YOU ARE message and I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy or weep at the contrived and now popular marketing message.

I didn’t see any “boy” books that said any of these messages. Those books were defined by the trucks and cars and things that go. Boys apparently don’t need to be reminded at their place in the sun at the top of the food chain, but apparently female authors have decided it is now time to explore (or exploit) the I AM FABULOUS enough message. The bright side to this long strange trip down the little superchick aisle was the amount of female representation books about real life women like Jane Goodall and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Rosa Parks and many more excellent, though predictable but nonetheless, community activists, science and political leaders. This in my opinion is a positive change in young readers literature. We didn’t have much of this when I was growing up so every positive reminder that there are strong female leaders besides Amelia Earhart and Florence Nightingale out there for our young minds to look up to is good news.

As I made my way through the stuffed animals and things that kind of resembled books, but I wasn’t sure, I looked for the books I loved reading to my son. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig of Shrek fame before Shrek fame, Animals Should Definitely not Wear Clothing, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Webb, by the one and only E. B. White, Blueberries for Sal and Lentil by Robert McCloskey, Little Women, any Sandra Boynton book, especially Dinasour’s Binket and Barnyard Dance and Are You My Mother? Hundreds of books I read to Michael over the years, but I barely saw them. The books I saw had a sad commercial quality to them like almost trying to match the latest movie.

The shower gift note included with the invitation asked we each bring a book to start the baby’s library. I get this because I have attended many many showers and seldom are books the main attraction. My go to gifts ever since I received them at my own shower are a nice big stack of books to start the library. This purchase today was more careful knowing that every attendee would be bringing a book. I had to stay away from I LOVE YOU FOREVER, PAT THE BUNNY, GREEN EGGS and almost any Dr. Seuss book for that matter, MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE and all that followed, and so many more of the classics. I had to go deep and make decisions that would be under the radar. When did children’s books become political? This particular employee tends to lean to the right or at least this is what I am told so the Ruth B. Ginsberg book was auto out. I actually had to read through some of the books so as not to offend. I had to cave though and buy the silliest one aforementioned, FEMINIST BABY, just for the pure absurdity of it. I would have liked to see a book called CHICKS AND CARS, maybe showing a little girl asking about how to change a tire. Or maybe a character headed to day care as her mom heads off to NASA to help develop a rocket. Maybe a book showing Dad getting home first and catching up on the laundry and getting dinner ready because Mom is traveling for business or maybe there is no Mom, maybe there is another Dad or maybe Mom is at her own house because the parents are divorced. How about a book about a child making friends at an afterschool program because both parents work two jobs to make ends meet? How about a book about learning about a great female economist and about the importance of saving your own damn money. How about a book called, “NO YOU DON’T HAVE TO ASK YOUR HUSBAND HOW MUCH TO PUT ASIDE FROM YOUR CHECK FOR THE COMPANY SPONSORED IRA?” Another book that would be great would be a book on a young girl going for her first job and dealing with the salary question by commanding fair pay. I would love to see a book about a mom bringing her daughter to the bank and showing her that money needs to get deposited into it in order for the debit card to actually withdraw it. Perhaps if we started getting into our young little chicks minds from the first book we read to them, we would have a serious group of developed and smart demanding women in the workforce. I am even open to this representation by other characters besides humans to make the point. Wise owls, strong lioness, graceful but commanding swans and lovely bad ass eagles. Let’s celebrate the praying mantiss in some of our books, we all know about her personality trait.

I don’t know, how about some reality instead of shoving down our brand new and ripe and ready new baby minds the white picket fence bullshit of YOU ARE FABULOUS AND GREAT AND PERFECT, because the fact is that life on its way to your little being is messy. Shit happens when you don’t feel so great and perfect, but this, my little one, is WHAT LIFE IS. No need for labeling yourself a failure because you feel like one occasionally, the failure is the juice that propels you into the light. Failure is normal. How about those realistic messages if we are going to start creating positivity books? How about the new moms putting their fricking phones down and actually reading a real book to their babies with no television and no ipad for five minutes. How about that?

yes i bought this, it is not pretty, but i had to buy it just to symbolize the crazy changes that are on their way at last i suppose.
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WHY AM I SURPRISED

WHY AM I SURPRISED

For anyone who knows me, I am on a constant partnership with myself. I am like my own science experiment when it comes to indulging in sugar, bread and alcohol. My composition and personal affirmation of yesteryear has been to label myself as an addictive personality. Drinking or not drinking, eating sugar or not, eating clean or not, the question from my friends when planning a dinner party is humorously, “are you eating sugar?” I roll my eyes at the tedious and boring person I had become. Notice the word had. Besides, labeling myself as any one thing just affirms that and I don’t know about you, but why the hell would I want to affirm addictive as a trait. I prefer charitable, kind, generous as my personal affirmations.

I made a conscious decision this 2018 to stop the madness and try to live in a more grey area. This is a big change for me, but as I had several epiphanies as of late regarding the concept of DAY 1, this notion of living in between appeals to me. So as many of us plod into January with our back pocket list of resolutions, I chose not to. I decided to just be more gentle with myself and seeing what that felt like. So as I gave up the sugar and the bread and the alcohol (like the three basic food groups of women I know) like I most often do, I made the decision that I would allow the occasional without the usual label of failure (again). What a load of crap. So the first eighteen days or so, nothing really came up that would cause the detour. Then this past week was to be the last week my son was home before headed back to college and as usual I had a menu plan that would make Julia Child proud or in this case, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the authors of my favorite cookbook as of late, Jerusalem.

I perused the page after page delectable choices, food porn, mouth watering at every turn when I came across a full two page recipe. No pictures either, just words and directions of a recipe called Chocolate Krantz cakes as the first recipe in a section categorized as Yeasted Cakes. I love a good cooking challenge and yeast is one of those ingredients ‘who’ has been my personal nemesis. I use the word ‘who’ because I seriously think of yeast as my personal antagonist over the years as I have attempted numerous times and ended up with a pile of flour mixture that resembles Playdough that had been left out for a few days. Not pretty and surely not worthy of serving warm to my twenty year old son on his last week of his holiday break of his sophomore year. Yeast to this yeast virgin is a risky proposition and mastering yeast has become my New Year resolution. So I jumped into this recipe that I would say is like a combination of streudel and chocolate babka. Two pages of directions followed by two pages of photos on assembly. Intimidating to say the least. But my new cookbook paramour, Yotam, promised me the end result would satisfy. This was followed by these opening lines: Making a krantz isn’t easy or quick (see pictures on pages 283 and 286–287). You need to let the dough rise overnight and then fill and shape it which is an elaborate process…. You know when a recipe has three pages of pictures, well say no more.

Because I am on a constant quest for mother of the year status, I decided to dive in. I mean chocolate, butter, sugar and flour, what could go wrong? So I started the night before prepping, which thank you pink Kitchen Aid and dough hook, took only about twenty minutes and went to bed. Next morning at my usual 4:30 am wake up, I got up and felt the connection with the women in the old world who didn’t have the luxury of a grocery store or Seven Stars bakery to get their bread and even if they did, wouldn’t cross their thresholds as their own cooking would always be superior. I saw Yotam’s mother or grandmother in Israel waking up before sunrise, adorning her apron and having her morning meditation along with her coffee before the kids and the bustle of the day started. I was part of this tribe as I dove in full-hearted with the hopes and dreams of a successful babka.

This was my second attempt at a Yotam yeast recipe so I had some confidence going in, but surely not a cocky one. This recipe though loaded with flour of course, didn’t have as much sugar in it as one would think looking at the dripping chocolate oozing out of the six layers of gooiness. As I made my way through the rolling and the layering and rolling and twisting, I had made the decision I was definitely chowing on this. The recipe made three loaves! I made a chocolate almond, a plain chocolate and a cinnamon sugar. Yotam, my friend and pretend lover, you did not disappoint again. I wish I could describe the taste, the smell and the joy I had in my success yesterday. I shared pieces all day with my clients, my friends and my neighbors, of course my son.. and me. Super Yum. It was that good. My friend, Morgan and I promptly named the potential store in my barn the Babka Barn.

Here’s the “why am I surprised’ part of this story. Because I barely eat sugar or bread anymore, when I do, I get the blaring reminder by my body. The tell tale signs of what I did to it that I have no regrets and would do it all over again, but this is what happens to me as I know my body so well now it is like a fine tuned machine of awareness. First off wake up two or three times in the night, 2:11, 3;11, 4:15, yes. Achy all over, yes. Swollen eyes, joints, yes. Inflamed thyroid nodule in my throat area, yes. This is not bullshit. I have tested this for the past five years and I am never wrong with the link between flour, sugar and body aching and mind spinning. The scattered thoughts, the lessening of assuredness, the questioning of decisions I never questioned just a few days ago, and the weird desire to shop come into my being like an uninvited guest who shows up at your door and you know you don’t want to spend time with them, but you let them in anyway.

The thing about food as thy medicine is that when you are hyper aware of what makes you tick, when you dive in, you know this is going to be how you feel. You also know that like a bad hangover, this too shall pass and in this case, it was worth every buttery bite (or bites in my case). Food is powerful, it represents a surplus of emotion. Food can be our worst enemy and our best friend in times of sadness, grief and celebrations. Women have a much twisted relationship with food as it comes at us at every turn tempting our weak spots like a pharmaceutical commercial. Like sex, it is all around us, but we seldom have the conversations about it. In my family, food like shopping was a loaded gun. It represented lots of love but layered with shame and lack of willpower and control as the same time. I have been my own science project and have loved the experiment in self awareness. Every buttery sugary bite brings me closer to a positive connection as I move into my 53rd year, I have made peace with my body and this is worth the occasional detour for sure.


i have this wonder woman doll since my first diagnosis and my son pointed out that her face is actually mine, for real. how did this happen and who gave me this? i can’t remember! Isn’t that hilarious? And how about these cakes! #crushonyotamottolenghi
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A GOOD MOM

A GOOD MOM

“You’re a good mom,” Michael said to me with such a voice of sincerity a few weeks back. Hearing the words from my life partner, my paramour, my best bud, is one thing, but knowing he also is a family therapist and deals with moms (and lets not forget dads in this labeling mix) of all sorts as his profession is another. The glory of hearing the three words that make a woman’s heart sing is that I know I am a “good mom.” As nice as it is to hear the compliment, it is equally as nice to know that I don’t need it to validate my worth as a mom.

What constitutes the good mom label anyway? Being labeled as a ‘good mom’ is different than the label of being a ‘good dad.’ When I reflect back to my early mom days, when paternity leave wasn’t even on the changing table and even if it had been, my union husband wouldn’t have even considered it. Frankly I think he would have felt it embarrassing to ask for it. I roll my eyes even saying that, but it was true, probably still is for him and lots of dads out there still even in 2018.

I delivered Michael on a Saturday morning, timed perfectly for a new father who never took vacation time. We came home as a family on the following Monday afternoon. Let’s not forget that the Patriots were in a playoff game on Sunday, December 28th, the father son dream timing as I am pretty sure we had some Patriots paraphanelia along with the game on in the hospital. This was well before the Patriots Dynasty, back well before Perfect Tom. As Dave sat there with his new and highly impressionable day old son in his arms watching with great promise, the notion of perfect parenting started to make its entrance. Dave only missed part of a workday that Monday. I think he went in on the morning of my checkout actually and picked us up. The next day, he lit a fire for me in our new fireplace, got me settled in on the couch and off he went to work. I remember thinking holy shit, how did this happen? When did the memo arrive that said I knew what I was doing simply because I was born with a vagina and by proxy was the one who gave this little dreamboat I now called my son life and birth and a safe delivery?

As we both settled into our new roles, Dave getting to leave for work every day and me having a complete life change as I tried to wrap my ahead around how I was ever going to be able to leave the house again, I did find my way eventually. So did Dave and so did we both as a couple, kind of.

I quickly realized that Dave was a superior diaper changer so I unknowingly, but as it turns out cleverly, anointed him the title. This first lesson in parenting was a golden nugget. Compliment the dad in what the mom is expected to know intuitively and Dad becomes the proud father of the year with the added bonus of easily getting him to change a diaper. The constant reminders from my mother and my grandmothers about how lucky I was to have a husband who changed diapers did not go unnoticed in the world of parental equality. “You are so fortunate,” my grandmother would coo as she used my motherhood to reflect back on her own as we women do so often (usually reminding us of how happy we are that though this part is missed, it has permanently set sail into the horizon). “Your grandfather would never change a diaper,” she would say with such an envious glee in her eyes, allowing my former husband to puff his chest out ever so slightly. These comments continued as my mother and grandparents would comment on all of the things Dave did so well, cooking, cleaning up the kitchen, laundry (as I write this, I am almost forgetting why we split up, ahh the glory of sensationalizing the past in reflection.)

For me and my role, these things were expected. Mothers don’t usually receive any additional accolades for their performance around the washing machine, the sink, the changing station. Never mind that so many of us go back to work after twelve weeks and still have to address the child care issues of pick up and delivery, of doctors appointments and calling out sick when your baby gets the sniffles for the first time. No these are mama expectations 101. I am sure there are many men who are part of the party these days, but when we were new parents, this was not something that was part of our network; in fact it wasn’t even consideration, but automatic assumption of roles. I can see in the wisdom of retrospect how easy it was to build a wall of resentment surely not helpful to a marriage of only seven years. We figured it out though and for the most part enjoyed the experience as we navigated these roles.

I have a clear memory of our first home purchase together. The realtor, who my husband had known from high school, was doing a walk through in the house to show us where things were. He decided that I needed to be the one to be shown the laundry area and Dave would be shown the furnace and all things basement. As we stood in front of the washing machine and dryer area, I said, “Paul, why are you assuming that I am the one who does the laundry?” I really meant this. He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. I mean he didn’t ever conceive that this scenario would be anything other. This was 1997. I wish I could at least blame it on 1950.

I was out to dinner at Los Andes in Providence for my son’s birthday a few weeks ago and there was a large family having dinner like we were. Parents, children, grandparents, it seemed and a little one, like maybe seven or eight months. Dad was holding her for most of the dinner, walking around with her, rocking her, enjoying her energy in his arms with so much love and joy. I recognized the feeling he was having as many of us parents can identify with. The wife was sitting and eating her meal and looking like she was enjoying some baby free time. Dad held the baby the hold time we were there. Mom didn’t get up once. I didn’t notice any of this until my dear friend who also happens to be a social worker in the NICU at Women and Infants and also my go to Mom mentor for most of my mom life said, “Mom hasn’t moved an inch. Dad has had that baby the whole time.” I felt a little defensive of mom actually and said back to her, “Would you have said that if it was Mom holding the baby and Dad never moving an inch?” She paused and replied, “Probably not.”

Isn’t this interesting, our assumptions about parental roles and what constitutes heroic mommyness versus stellar daddyness? Kind of like our assumptions about gender, but that topic deserves its own separate writing.

Being “A GOOD MOM” is such a loaded topic. I for one never set out to be a “GOOD MOM” but a better one. My mom and I really never jived. From the get go, I think there was this weird competition between us for whatever reason. Her relationship with her mother was not a good one and there was resentment until the day my grandmother died. Ann, my mother, was only twenty when I was born as she and my father haphazardly eloped at nineteen and sent a telegram to let their surprised parents know. I am guessing that me coming along eleven months later gave them no time to catch their breaths from a hasty decision. Keep in mind that birth control only became legal for married couples in 1965 and even then twenty six states did not allow its use. There wasn’t the luxury of planned pregnancies so when you had sex, you probably got pregnant whether you wanted to or not.

I grew up with a mom who tried at the external, the nice dinners, the pretty home, the nice clothing and shopping at Sacks, but lacked the intuitive for the role. There wasn’t a lot of warmth and fuzziness. She didn’t have that from her mom whose own mother died when my grandmother was only 11. My grandmother was sent to a boarding school in Duluth Minnesota, Villa Scholastica to be raised by a group of Benedictine nuns, hardly a mush fest. With barely an example, it is no wonder. Then I think of my mother in law who was raised by a woman who perhaps would have been referred to as ‘loose’ back in those days and she ended up being the quintessential mom at least from the outside. You know, the rice krispy treats and fridge filled with food and kids always at the house at the built in swimming pool and so on. I think this is one of the characteristics that drew me to my former husband, her nurturing momness and his respect and love for her.

I did my best. I showed up, I was room mom, and volunteer mom. I was one of the four or five moms who had the massive sleepovers and birthday parties and end of the school year parties. I tried not to yell, though coming from a yeller, this was not as easy as sometimes Satan would rush up unannounced as I found it hard to control the gut reaction I had been used to on the receiving end when I was little. My son would say, “Mom, chill out, you don’t have to yell,” with a voice of reason I could not understand where it came from.

What constitutes a good mom is such an intricate and detailed weave of discussion. I’d imagine it is different for every person as they start this role and in hindsight reflect back on it. A good mom is a loaded three words, but I think if I were asked to define what makes me think I am one it would be this.

-Being open to what you can learn from your child as much as you think you can teach them back is numero uno on my lesson ladder.

-Look up. Technology is in our literal hands as I watch like an old lady the new moms walking their babies in their $1200 strollers trying not to judge as they stroll with a Latte in the cup holders, the leash of their Labradoodle in one hand and their Iphone in the other, texting, talking browsing missing this scenery of life. We didn’t have texting and phone emails that could so easily distract in 1997. I am sure in my perpetual world of multi tasking, I would fall into this trap. I am glad I didn’t have to make that choice.

-Learn from other moms you admire. I would say that this helped define how to be a better mom more often as I didn’t always have the knowledge to bank on. Some of the best parenting I did was because I learned it from other moms watching their example.

-Let dad be a father. I worked every Saturday and he didn’t so he was the on duty parent those Saturdays. I cherished the Saturday I got to go to work because I didn’t have to do any prep child care, I could just wake up, get ready and go to work like he did the other five days. Unbeknownst to both of us, it was one of the greatest lessons in parenting because he learned how to parent in his way and I learned how to let him. I have had many new mom employees who can’t fathom the release of control this takes. I encourage them to try it, usually with only a small amount of success. This built so much confidence in my husband as a parent and as a Dad and taught me that most of the things we moms obsess over are nonsense. The dishes get done, the laundry gets folded and life goes on. Watching my husband grow as a father was one of the best life lessons I had the privilege of enjoying. I actually think this was one of the threads that kept us married for as long as it did, I just didn’t want to give up watching him be a dad to our son. It was really a special time in our lives and I have only the best memories of it.

-Listen. My son has taught me as much if not more about being a good parent than I have likely taught him. As frustrated and impatient as I have found parenting to be at times, his accurate responses to that frustration, like when I have not been present to his never ending stream of questions, he knowingly and calmly has volleyed back to command my attention. “Mom, didn’t you always teach me to ask questions?” Touché.

All the chocolate chip cookies, volunteering in the classroom, and trips to different countries do not make up for these delicious mom moments. As much as my morning daily baking this past week for his return from school has likely assured my place in the ‘good mom’ record books in his eyes, it is often my own eyes that define it for me. As I have learned about myself and continued my own self inquisition, I have become a better mother proving it is never too late. This is gratifying in itself.









some of my favorite go to moms all these years.