"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘motherhood’ Category

The Shes In Me

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Taking Emily to college a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but mentally check off all of the life lessons I was sure I’d taught her in her eighteen years of living with us at home.  Did she know not to put a grease fire out with water?  Had I shown her how serious I was about safeguarding your drink at a party?  What about identity theft scams?  Did she know not to mix ammonia and bleach cleaning products?  I couldn’t be certain that we’d covered all the basics of everyday life and I knew that I didn’t have time in our remaining car ride to cover them all, even if I could remember what they all were.

I wasn’t overly worried about not telling her everything—her generation grew up with Google and YouTube, after all.  But it wasn’t until last weekend that it dawned on me that a lot of things I have learned in life didn’t necessarily come from my own mom.  Not to minimize my mom’s influence on my life, but I realized that over the years, many women (and men) have served as teachers in my life.  By absorbing their life lessons, intentionally taught or not, they have all helped develop and shape my outlook on life.  The person I am today is a product of all those “shes” in me.

I’m really hoping that Emily’s life is full of people who step up for some of those practical lessons in a role that parents can’t always fill.  There are times that I think I’ve neglected to teach her some of the most basic of things—like in her first few days at school she asked me where to buy postage stamps.  (Apparently, we never covered that lesson.)  If I skipped the postage stamp lesson, I have most certainly glossed over topics like refilling your windshield washer fluid and choosing produce at the grocery store, so I hope that she is never afraid to reach out and ask others.  I remember several years ago I felt really stupid asking my mother-in-law about hospital corners when making a bed, but I asked her anyway.  Growing up, as long as the bed covers were pulled up and not rumpled, my bed was considered “made”.  But my mother-in-law had been in nursing school, and “official hospital corner bed-making” was part of her curriculum, so I asked her about it, and she patiently showed me.  Now, just about every time I make the bed I think of that lesson, and the non-judgmental kindness of the woman who didn’t mind taking the time to teach me.

Lessons that go above and beyond have stayed with me a lot longer than others could possibly imagine, too.  When I was about six years old, my mom demonstrated to me a tooth brushing lesson that I’ll never forget.  I was the kid that would wet her toothbrush so it looked like I brushed my teeth because I was too lazy to actually brush.  And I had the cavities to show it, too.  I don’t know if Mom was just tired of having to take me to the dentist or listening to me complain about Novocain shots, but one day she took me into their master bathroom and got out an old comb and toothbrush.  She demonstrated in dramatic fashion the best way to brush.  I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember thinking that my teeth brushing habits must really be important to her.   I remember how it made me feel important to her, too.

tooth

Some of the best kind of mentoring can take place when someone lives in such a way people emulate their ways.  People who walk the walk, and don’t just talk the talk.  I know of many women who have been a blessing to me and probably don’t even realize it.  Women who have lived their lives modeling graciousness, reaching out to those in need with a heart for helping others.  Women who aren’t afraid to admit they’ve made mistakes, but use the lessons they learned in making those mistakes as a way to guide others into self-reflective decision making instead of wallowing in self-pity and regret.

Speaking of role models, I need to mention I’ve picked up on some “what not to do” teachings, too.  Generally unintentional, not necessarily pleasant, these lessons in life are passed on by the person who embodies character traits that make others want to turn 180 degrees away from them.   As distasteful as some of those encounters can be, I long for my children to see them for what they are—a valuable lesson on how not to conduct themselves, which can be as powerful of life lesson as a deliberate teaching.  Instead of feeling wronged, I hope they turn those experiences into becoming strong, resilient people who gain the ability to persevere through adversity.

When I think back over my years being around young people as a parent, Girl Scout leader and coach, I have had the opportunity to be someone else’s child’s “she”.  In those roles over the years, I became extremely self-aware of how my attitude and the way I’ve handled situations and people is perceived by the casual and not-so-casual observer.  I’ve always hoped that, even if they don’t remember my name, something I’ve said or done in our time together in some small way will draw up to the surface of who they become in a positive way.  The food coloring in the water to someone’s carnation.  I am forever grateful for those who have been that to my children—their friends’ parents, coaches, youth leaders, and teachers who took the time to be a role model and mentor to them.

carnation

I will always appreciate those in my life who, whether they knew it or not, shared moments and insight with me that helped to shape who I am today.  To the women who shared cookie-baking secrets, demonstrated grace during crisis and lived lives that showed others they truly cared, thank you. I hope to be able to pay your kindness forward to someone else.  And to those whose lessons were not in kindness, I owe you thanks as well.  Without the negative interactions we’ve had, I may not be able to see the balance in life and work through it.

It’s been a little over a month since Emily stepped out from the comforts of living at home with Mom and Dad into college life.  She’s not encountered any grease fires or had cleaning catastrophes that I’ve been told about, so I’m hoping those skipped lessons have been averted or do not become Mission Critical any time soon.  I’m not positive on how she goes about making her bed on the top bunk, but my guess is hospital corners are not a major concern that she has.  Thankfully, it sounds like she’s settling into college with some great shes to help her out.  But now that I think about it, she’s not mailed a letter to dear old Mom and Dad yet, so about those postage stamps…

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The Story of Merle, From Barn Kitty to King of the Castle In His Own Mind

Merlin sleeping

Late last summer, Tyler asked “Can I get a barn kitty from Katie’s Grandma’s house?”  Being the practical Mom that I am, I answered a resounding, no, absolutely not.  In a few short weeks, the girls would be back in school, Tyler away at college, and all animal maintenance on my shoulders.  Where would it sleep? We already had a cat, albeit one that rarely made an appearance amongst humans, but a cat and two dogs were enough.  Why would I want another critter to care for?

“Well, look at him,” he said, flashing me a picture of Katie with a tiny runt of a kitty sitting on her shoulder like a bedraggled parrot.  It was not a handsome kitty.

Merlin the parrot

I rolled my eyes.  “The answer is still no,” I said, shaking my head at the homely kitten, although I had to admit it was a charming pose.  My mind moved onto other things.

That night as I tried to sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about that kitten.  In that single pic, the posture of that scruffy little face stuck in my head.  My logical self told me I was crazy for even entertaining the notion of having another animal living here, even if it was just until Tyler lived somewhere that would allow him to have a cat.  Probably just a year, I reasoned.  And what if we saved the little runt of a kitten from the barn kitty life, and gave him a loving home…

Have I mentioned I watched a lot of animal cartoons growing up?

The next morning, I texted Tyler from work.  “When do you need an answer about the cat?” And so it began.  I’ll spare you the details of the text conversations between the kids, my husband and me.  To sum, there was a tiny bit of resistance, lots of debate and all kinds of mushy words of how a deprived little kitty needed a home.  I should mention there was not a shred of logic.

In the hours that followed, you would have thought we’d been expecting a newborn baby.  We batted around names, with Tyler having the final say, and decided he’d be called Merlin.  We went to the pet store for new toys and treats, more kitty litter and a separate litter box, kitten food and the much-needed kitty door for Tyler’s room.  As they rang up the purchases, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d somehow been bamboozled.  I have always been too big a softie when it comes to furry creatures with big, round eyes. Sucker.

We spent the evening waiting for Katie to come back from her Grandma’s with the new kitty.  As we have other pets, and he had been mostly living outside and had yet to be examined by a vet, we met him outside in the garage.  He was so skinny and tiny!

 

Despite his puny appearance, he had an obvious curiosity about everything going on, and was so trusting and friendly.

Until I put him in the sink.

He had some jumpy little fleas on him, and we had an aged bottle of flea shampoo upstairs, so I figured why not?  This pitiable little kitten went from curious to a terrified lump of fur in a matter of seconds.  I thought I’d killed the poor thing from the shock as he went completely limp.  There was no fight in him, but as soon as we got him in the towel he had completely forgiven me. Little did I know at the time that dog flea shampoo can be toxic to cats, or I really would have thought I had killed him.

Not surprisingly, he ended up spending the night in Tyler’s room, not the garage.  After a trip to the vet first thing in the morning, it was determined he had quite a few health issues besides just fleas.  We ended up with anti-worm medication, eye drops for his runny eye and, of course, they did a flea treatment.  He wasn’t healthy enough for his first round of vaccinations.

Velma, our other cat, did not have much use for him, which ended up being a good thing since he had his health woes to overcome before we wanted them to meet.  Chester and Grendel were their nosy selves, but took to him better than I thought they would.  Of course, he was usually in someone’s arms or lap, so he was gradually introduced.  Early on, he showed those two he wasn’t afraid of them by leaping down right in the middle of the two of them while they had been looking at him like a pack of hungry hyenas.  It may have been in that very moment that he decided he was one of the boys, an honorary dog in his own right.

Tyler was like a new father to his pet.  It was only a week before he had to head back to school, and he spent as much time with him as he could.  My favorite memory from that week, though, was when Tyler told me, “All he wants to do is play in the middle of the night, and all I want to do is sleep”.  He also had a hard time leaving him, even if it was to go out with friends.  I told him welcome to Parenthood Lite.

Summer wound down, the kids all went back to school, and I found myself with a kitten who thought he was a dog, following me from room to room, bringing me his toys and looking for me in the morning for his daily spoon of soft food.  In fact, the daily spoon is the one thing he and Velma can agree on, and I often wake in the morning to find two cats roaming around looking for me to get up and get them their treat.

It’s been about six months since he’s wormed (literally) his way into our household, and I can’t believe it had ever been a question of “Mom, can we keep him?”  While he still battles with his runny eye, an issue I imagine he’ll deal with most of the time, he’s grown to be a spunky, curious, and affectionate cat.

Always curious, but after hearing the old saying about curiosity killing cats, Merlin stays back a safe distance.

merlin-the-lap-kitty.jpg

Despite my best efforts to not get too attached to him (he’s Tyler’s cat after all) I find myself completely in love with this mangy little guy.  He still hasn’t mastered the ability to actually meow, instead making a sort of chirping sound.  (Hmm, a cat that thinks he’s a dog and sounds like a bird.  Perhaps he really does have an identity crisis.) He greets me when I get home from work, is always looking for a snuggle, and constantly finds ways to endear himself to me. I hate to admit it, but most of the recent photos on my phone are of Merlin and I can’t go to the store without bringing him some sort of toy or treat home.  At some point I became Crazy Cat Lady and the notion is unsettling.  I thought that only happened to empty nesters.

merlin-on-my-shoulder.jpg

He still has parrot tendencies. And helps me on the computer.

Merlin on keyboard

Here he gives me some writing advice while warming himself on the keyboard

If you were to ask him (and he could talk—I’m not that crazy yet), I believe he would tell you he’s King of the Castle here at the house.  There may be a dog or cat around here that would disagree with his assessment, but I doubt they’d do anything about it.

Velma and Merlin

The kitties eventually called a truce. I wouldn’t say they’re the best of buddies, but a lap is still a lap, so they manage to get along enough to grab a nap on the blanket.

Regardless of who rules the roost, none can argue he’s injected some excitement into the quiet household, whether he’s playing the part of cat, dog or parrot.  Not too shabby for the runt-of-the-litter barn kitty he started off life as in the beginning.

Why Former Stay-At-Home Moms Can Be Rock Star Employees

IMAG0656After “staying home” about twelve years with my three kids when they were younger, I decided to gingerly test the job market about seven years ago.  At that point, my kids were all in school and could manage to look after themselves for a few hours without burning down the house.  My logic was that I could earn a little money for the extras, while getting out of the house and re-developing skill sets that could enhance my resume.  The Mommy Track became very real to me as I looked for something to get myself back into the workplace.

I didn’t expect to jump from “Stay At Home Mom” to CEO or anything, especially with my big girl career background being mostly in a niche industry (I had worked in the very heavily-regulated secondary federal student loan market).  When the kids were little I had done odds and ends paid jobs—Assistant Pre-School Teacher, home-based business cosmetics and skin care, some contract work doing computer work—but nothing that made me a stand-out job candidate.   I had also done a lot of non-paid jobs, mostly kid-oriented—coaching, volunteering at church and knee-deep involvement with two Girl Scout troops.  I loved my volunteer work with the kids’ activities, but I was seeking to spend time with people that I would not have to remind to use their indoor voices or sit “crisscross applesauce”.

I ended up working for a little over a year at a Retirement Home as an Activities Assistant.  It was a very fun job for someone like me who loves talking with people and learning about their lives.  I led exercise classes and discussion groups, helped with our facility’s numerous and magnificent parties, bar tended at Happy Hour and learned how to play Euchre with some wonderful people.  I learned a lot about people at that job—mainly that BINGO could be considered a contact sport at times—but the pay wasn’t that great, and the hours were split up in such a way over the week that I felt like I was working much more than 20 hours a week.  So I went back to what I was comfortable with, and ended up working part-time as an Administrative Assistant, focusing on placing past organization and computer “hard” skills on my resume.  It’s a nice gig, Monday through Friday six hours a day, a flexible boss and a very short commute.

Occasionally I’ll take a look at a job website to get a feel for what’s out there.  I’m amazed at how much job searching and applying has changed, not just since my fresh-out-of-college days, but in the last seven years.  Almost all job applications are online and involve uploading documents.  It drives me crazy to painstakingly fill out detailed employment history on an online application when you’re giving them your resume’ anyway.  I understand how it can make a hiring director’s job much easier to have a computer program pre-screen applications searching for specific keywords, but it certainly takes the human out of Human Resources.  When one hasn’t taken the traditional career path, trying to tie a non-job related life experience skill set to a specific career keyword can be frustrating.

There are a lot of women (and men, too) that have taken similar career paths to mine, and I’ve noticed that most of us overlook some notable character traits that come with the Mommy Track territory.  Sure, career websites and other experts tell us to highlight our past career and volunteer knowledge and not to diminish the roles we’ve played in being our own Household Executive.  My personal experience has been that it is easier said than done.  Calling myself my family’s Chief Operating Officer?  I can’t picture that on a resume that gets taken seriously—especially if the person reading it has juggled full-time employment while being Family COO.  It’s not that the strengths of many stay-at-home Moms are exclusive to just those individuals by any means; they are just often not acknowledged as being experience to easily taut while re-entering the workplace.

Often, potential qualities and strengths I’ve seen in others on the Mommy Track aren’t tied to the hot buzzword of the moment, but that’s not to say they are not resume-worthy, timeless assets.  As time distances me from those days in my own life, it’s easier for me now to identify in others some typical skills honed during those years with the kids.  My goal is that perhaps this short list will help others who need to see themselves with new eyes come up with some translatable terminology. I’ll use the title “Former Stay-At-Home Moms” for simplicity’s sake with apologies to all the Dads and others who may be offended because I find writing she/he/his/her on every point cumbersome; feel free to insert the appropriate title and adapt.

#1.  Former Stay-At-Home Moms possess great leadership skills.  “Because I’m the Mom” aren’t just words to be said when avoiding the “Why?” question.  The parent who is organizing schedules, making sure that some sort of nourishment is given throughout the day and deciding who gets to ride shot gun on the way to the grocery store can’t be a follower.  She has to be able to make a decision, execute it and be willing to re-visit later if necessary.  That’s not to say her authority won’t be questioned, so a strong backbone is required.  Kids like to push limits, especially when they are tired, hungry or miss their favorite Spongebob episode.  The ability to identify every-changing needs in varying situations, as well as coming up with an action plan and following through are all vital skills.

#2.  Former Stay-At-Home Moms must be resourceful and think creatively.  Anybody who has ever tried to keep the younger set occupied day after day in an environment that’s safe and allows for learning opportunities has to be able to be flexible and work with what’s available.  Sometimes that means the Halloween costume might be a simple green shirt with brown pants and drawn on beard-scruff so “Shaggy” can go trick-or-treating at the last minute.  It can also mean making sure Mom’s “It” during Hide and Seek so she can throw a load of laundry in while actively “seeking” the kids in their hiding spots.

#3.  Former Stay-At-Home Moms develop insightful diplomatic and people-skills.  What job can’t use the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of a saint?  The ability to read and understand people’s motives while remaining neutral and calm is part of all parenting.  Some are better at it than others…sometimes I was better at the insight part than the being calm part.  A person who can learn to referee squabbling siblings diplomatically can transfer that ability to clients and fellow employees.

#4.  Former Stay-At-Home Moms know how to research and learn.  Why do dogs circle around their bed before they lie down?  Why is the sky blue?  Who was Genghis Kahn?  Shh…don’t tell the kids, but parents don’t always know EVERYTHING.  Sometimes we need to research an answer (thanks, Wikipedia, YouTube and Google).  What is most fulfilling about this kind of learning is that sometimes it leads to producing lifelong interests for our children, or even ourselves.  The ability to find accurate answers quickly is a job skill that crosses every industry.

#5.  Former Stay-At-Home Moms understand being realistic and “The Big Picture”.  It can be hard for all of us to visualize how the small steps we take today towards our goals really do produce results when those results seem so far in the future.  Anyone who has ever been a Girl Scout Troop Cookie Manager knows that rounding up everything needed to get the troop’s cookie-selling is not for the faint of heart.  It requires patience, the ability to chase down parents for required signatures on documents and orders, and oftentimes a large vehicle for cookie hauling.  In the moment it is hard to see how this does anything but add a mere quarter per box to troop funds.  Big Picture thinking is required to see the true impact of that thankless job—girls who learn how to set financial goals and follow through with them by marketing and selling a product.  Being able to see beyond the here and now towards a goal that’s not guaranteed is certainly an asset in today’s immediate gratification world.

I’m positive that not all of these in my list apply to everyone who has left paid employment to raise a family; however, it’s a good start for those who may have forgotten that what they do can translate into tangible job skills at some point.  While I’m not sure how to best encapsulate these observations into a blanket-statement, bulleted list on an individual’s resume so they make it past the pre-screen, they are definitely points to be made in cover letters and interviews and can be tailored.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent that doesn’t happen to be looking for employment outside the home right now, may it encourage you to know that these years do matter.  Involve yourself with the community and your family—and don’t forget to work in time for your personal pursuits.  The Mommy Track doesn’t have to be a separate path from career building—consider it the scenic route.

Choosing Your Battles

cracked egg

The young mother cast a weary glance my way over the top of the squirmy toddler’s head.  She moved the bag of chips towards the back of the cart, just out of reach from those stretched-out fingers.  The little boy’s lip stuck out, but he didn’t shriek or cry.  I gave her a sympathetic smile as we passed and we went our separate ways in the grocery store.  I’d been there once.  Another Mom vs. Child battle won!

When the kids were little and I found myself exasperated with them, my husband would remind me to pick my battles.  It was hard.  I wanted them – expected them – to just behave how I wanted them to all the time simply because I was “The Mom”.  When they didn’t listen to my logic (good, sound, Mom-logic!) I felt like minor situations escalated from disagreement to battles to war in the space of a few short minutes.  The problem wasn’t a matter of me picking a battle.  The problem was that I thought three-year-olds would listen to reason.  Ha!

One of the things that I had to learn was that I didn’t have to win every battle to win the war.  Again, it was tough lesson.  I wanted to be right.  I wanted the kids to know I was right.  I wanted the kids to be little grown-ups in those tiny little bodies and see how I only had their best interest at heart.  The most selfish part of that equation was that I also didn’t want others to judge me as being a bad parent.  After all, if my kid had on a horrible, mis-matched outfit at pre-school it was obviously because I was the worst Mom ever, right?

There was a time in my life when I thought I’d just never be able to go in public again—especially restaurants and stores.  I suppose if that were true, I’d have a few more dollars in the bank account right now.  When I found out Erin was on the way, one of the first thoughts I had was, How in the world will I be able to keep track of three kids in the grocery store?  Someone’s gonna lose a finger…or an eye! 

When I look back now, especially when I see people in the store with their kids, I have a completely different take on toddlers and parents. I am quick to NOT judge, because I’ve been in their shoes.  I’ve had my exhausted kid scream about how much he hated me in the parking lot because we had to leave the dance party at the elementary school when it was getting late and his sisters were tired.  I’ve been the mom whispering through clenched teeth about how they were going to really “get it” when we got home if I got any more sass.  I have had to go to the store manager and alert them to the egg on the floor and apologize because my kid grabbed one out of the container and chucked it in two seconds when I opened it to check for cracked eggs.  Been there, done that.

All in all, my kids were actually pretty well-behaved youngsters in public.  It’s just that my memory doesn’t recall the times we peacefully strolled the aisles or sat at a restaurant.  I can even laugh a little bit at those battles won and lost.  Ultimately, we all won a little bit, because with one in college and two now in high school no one is throwing eggs at the grocery store and their clothes match quite well.  They even give me fashion advice.  I sometimes bribe my kids with promises of gum purchases to get them to go to the store with me now.

I can’t say I saw this mother with the chip-loving toddler and eyed her with envy.  Those years were not always easy, but I cherish them now.  We look back on those once-exasperating moments and laugh a little when the kids actually remember certain incidents and tell me what was going through their minds at the time.  Those years were a rite of passage in the journey of Motherhood, and now it’s definitely in a different stage, where our trips to Costco involve me trying to get out of the store without indulging in the frozen yogurt sundaes with the kids at the end of the trip—a battle rarely won.  And that’s a whole new war.

Wanted: Antacids and Patience Please

Last Monday, the first day of Spring Break, I took Emily to take the written part of her driving test to get her learner’s permit.  Somehow this snuck up on me.  Even though she turned fifteen a few weeks ago, has had the book to study and has talked quite often about getting her driving permit, the reality of what this actually means hadn’t hit me.  Until that afternoon.

Driving from the testing location to the license office, it occurred to me all that comes with teaching a child to drive:  trying to keep gasps quietly to myself, death grips on the handrest, and questioning my judgment on where and when to not let her drive.  Target’s parking lot is not for the faint of heart!  Then there’s all that comes with when they have their full license and are driving when you’re NOT in the car.  And here I thought I was done giving up sleep when they started sleeping through the night!

I like to think of myself as a laid back person—but I’ll be the first to admit that does not hold true when it comes to riding as a passenger in the car with the kids.  That is where I become the Control Freak from Hell.  Tyler’s been driving on his own for nearly two years now, and I still grab the handrest, even though he drives just fine.  Maybe it’s the memories of how they drove playing Mario Cart when they were little.  Or the times they ran into mailboxes, parked cars and sometimes each other on their bikes.  I know, I shouldn’t hold that against them, but those visions must lie dormant somewhere in my sub-conscious.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Tyler was behind the wheel for the first time.  He had two vehicles to choose from to learn on—a 6-speed manual transmission or a full-sized Ford Expedition.  Neither one were very easy to start with, but he began driving with my huge truck.  I can’t remember exactly how I learned to drive, but at least I had a small car.  It seemed like I knew the basics before I actually had a permit.  When we were kids my dad would let us sit on his lap and “drive” on the gravel roads surrounding the sand plant.  I don’t remember having to ask how to put the car in drive, or how the gas pedal worked.

I do remember taking my driver’s test.  I had the lady with the shocking red-orange hair and matching bright orange lipstick.  The one the older kids at school warned us younger ones you didn’t want to give you your test.  I had my mom’s ’86 Mercury.  The steering column had the turn signal, horn and high beams all on the same “blinker stick”.  Up and down for the blinkers, push in for the horn, and pull forward for the brights.  Before we started, I was asked to demonstrate various functions of the car.  The instructor asked me to put on the high beams.  I’d never used them before, but I saw “PULL” on the stick, so I did.  I pulled the turn signal right out of the steering wheel!  Flustered, I tried to put it back on, resulting in my honking the horn long and loud several times.  I’m surprised I didn’t fail right then, but she allowed me to drive off the lot into traffic.  About the third or fourth turn, the blinker stick fell off onto the floorboard, leaving me with a little nub about two inches long to use for the turn signal.  To this day, I think I passed only due to this woman’s pity.  I’m sure that my test made her top ten of hilarious idiot driving test stories to tell.

So now you know I really have no business judging my kids’ lack of driving knowledge.  I had some humble beginnings.  Learning to drive a manual transmission threw me a curveball.  And any passengers almost through the windshield.  My dad probably has more gray hair having taught me to drive a stick, but we survived.

So yes, I’m a hypocrite.  I still can’t help but be a little nervous giving up control of the wheel to someone who describes putting the car in drive as “putting the line on the ‘D’”.  Luckily I’m married to someone who has nerves of steel and a lot more patience as the parent Driver Instructor than I do.  I remind myself to keep a sense of humor about it all, because in the end, having another driver to run errands does come in handy.  I just hope that by the time she’s driving solo, it will be for milk, bread and eggs, not antacids.

Mom on Retainer

 

My cousin, Kim, asked me when, as a Mom, I knew when I didn’t have to be on retainer anymore. Knowing her like I do, (she and I share the same brain wavelength) I understood exactly what she meant without her having to explain. When you’re raising a family, especially as a Mom who doesn’t work outside the home, it’s hard to know when you’re “allowed” to let out some slack when it comes to managing the family’s comings and goings.

For me, it felt like when I wasn’t doing something for my kids like their laundry, picking up after them, or cooking their meals, I was being lazy. After all, I was a stay at home Mom, what else was I supposed to do—it was my full-time job. What I learned, though, was that by always doing those types of things for my kids after they got older, I was enabling them to not be able to be independent little people. As my kids grew into teenagers, I quickly came to realize the error of my ways. I’m a slow learner, but I gave up a little control, suffered from a little bit of guilt, and started expecting more from them. They delivered—well, sort of…although none of them have become laundry-guru-bathroom-scrubbing-neat-freaks. Apologies in advance to their future roommates and spouses.

Kim’s way ahead of the game on me on that one—she’s a fantastic Mom who has always given her boys ownership of their responsibilities. For Kim, the matter wasn’t letting go of the duties of household chores, it’s more of the plain, old being there for the family on standby. You know how it is. There’s always somewhere the kids need to be taken, children’s activities to be involved in and the general duty to leave the schedule open in order to accommodate the rest of the family’s needs. When you’re the Mom on Retainer, the expectation is that you are there to plan everything for the family, so naturally your individual pursuits get put on the back burner. It’s a season in every young family’s life, sometimes more extreme than others, but the question becomes: At what point is Mom not on retainer anymore?

As parents, we knowingly and lovingly make some sacrifices of “me” time for our kids, but on the other hand, kids need to learn that their desires do not rule the household. Parents can’t wait until their children grow up to have lives of their own. Young people having plenty of interests isn’t a bad thing, but if it’s at the cost of a parent living in stagnant waters without the ability to grow as a person, there’s a problem. Everybody knows if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy! I also think a person has to consider where these expectations come from.

One could argue that this is self-imposed—another example of extreme people-pleasing. The funny thing is, often there is a fine line between wanting to please everyone by doing the “dirty work” (being a martyr Mom) and the need to feel in control. When I relinquish control to my husband by saying something is his responsibility, I have to do so fully. I can’t gently prod or offer up my suggestion on how I would do something myself if I’m supposed to be letting it go. If he doesn’t handle something exactly how I would, I have to allow that to happen. Which brings up what else is at work: fear.

But what I personally found when I stepped back was that the world did not end. There were mix-ups and scheduling conflicts. I couldn’t volunteer to chaperone all the field trips or plan classroom parties. But life went on, and new expectations for what and when I was available gradually adjusted. In the process, we all grew just a little bit more independent.

In truth, Moms are always on retainer. The Retainer Fee just covers less as the kids get older and need us less. Don’t we drop everything when it really does matter? We do so not because we are obligated by a Mom Code Contract, but because there’s something much more binding us to our children—unconditional love. And that’s one thing that has no expiration date.

In a Room Where It’s Always 4:57

So it's hard to find a clock image with 4:57 on it.  I found this cool one courtesy of momastry.com

So it’s hard to find a clock image with 4:57 on it. I found this cool one courtesy of momastry.com

In the music room where Erin takes viola lessons the clock is broken; the second hand bounces without ever moving forward. Even though I know it’s broken—it hasn’t worked since she moved over to that room—I catch myself glancing over at it to check the time. But it’s always 4:57.

Sitting there, listening to her lesson, I think about what it would be like if time could just stop like it does in TV shows and movies. You know the scene where the main character is moving in slowmo, and everyone else just freezes. Some days, I wish I could do exactly that. When I’m feeling overwhelmed and just want to take a breather. In the morning right before the alarm goes off. Or when I’m enjoying a moment, and I want to savor it before it slips into the past. It would just be nice to say, “Hang on Universe, I’ll re-join you in a minute or two”.

The flip side of wanting to have time stop for a moment, is wishing it would already be a certain time. Like when you’re a little kid and you can’t wait for Friday so you can go to your friend’s birthday party. Later on, it becomes wanting to hurry up with high school or college so you can start your “real” life. I remember in college counting down the days to get finished with that last semester so I could get a grown up job. Now, in my grown up life so full of responsibility, I wish I would have savored a bit more of those college days instead of pressing forward so hard to the future.

As a parent, I’ll admit there have been times in my children’s lives that I have had to buckle down and just get through. In the beginning it was cranky babies crying and trying to get them to go to finally go to sleep. New parents stumble through those days, feeling like those nights without enough sleep will never end. People told me those days would go by so fast, but I never really believed them. The elementary school years, filled with those awful required science fair projects and being the homework police—they told me those days would go by fast, too. I started believing they might be right, but still…

And now we’re getting towards the end of summer with one seventh grader, a freshmen and a senior in high school all picking up their schedules and gearing up for another school year. And I wish I had a time machine. Or at least a video that I can rewind of what the heck happened over the past two months because I can’t imagine how it went by so fast. I want to throw us all in a room with a broken clock where it’s going to be Summer 2014 a little while longer.

Yet, there’s a tiny part of me, filled with hope and enthusiasm for the future, that wants to see what happens next—for the kids, for my husband and me. What excitement is just around the corner that if I stopped time right now I’d delay getting to enjoy? So I’m glad I don’t really have a choice in the matter. And we forge ahead.

If I can’t have the broken clock, can I at least have a better memory?

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