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Posts Tagged ‘mothers’

Why can’t I tell my daughter she’s pretty?

Will that make her believe her sole worth is tied up in the beauty I see in her face? Will it ensure that she develops an eating disorder or a personality complex or make her vain or narcissistic? Will my name come up all too often in future therapy sessions because I told her she was pretty and that somehow manifested itself into me being a mother who put too much importance on her physical looks?

I was shopping for clothes at the local second-hand store with my kids and had two simultaneous realizations that… I suppose, are very much related.

My oldest daughter (who will be 16 in a few weeks), was drawn immediately to the rows of shorts — micro-mini-shorts. I said, “no”, without so much as a look in her direction. Then, her logic hit me… with overwhelming force, as most teenage logic does.

She stared deep into my eyes and asked, “do you think I’m a slut if I wear short shorts?”

 “No!”, I vehemently denied, without hesitation.

Of course I don’t think my daughter is a slut… what I was thinking about was if others would think she was a slut. The visions of Rush Limbaugh that floated through my mind at that very moment sickened me.  

Her words stopped me from traveling down a path that too many use as an excuse to defile girls… it made me remember this post I read a while ago about the amazing Eve Ensler. Our clothes and our looks should not define how we are treated by others… but often, it does.

This realization hit me like an elephant kicking me in the gut… how easy it was for me, a strong-willed-out-spoken-independent woman to fall into the trap of blame and shame.

My other realization was with my youngest daughter (8). She is, in childhood terms, chubby. I’ve been watching her gain weight the last couple of years… I changed her diet, began telling her the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, cut back on the high calorie meals, and cut out visits to fast food restaurants. Still, she steadily has gained weight. Her clothes are too long in length in order to get them to fit the waist. I worry and plan and worry some more.

Let me not fail to mention my son (13) — he went through a couple of years of chubby and now is thin… maybe too thin. I read an article on the growing number of boys affected by eating disorders. So, now I have my girls and my boy to consider with each word and glance and misplaced sigh of disapproval that escapes my body. I have to make a conscious effort to not fall into that trap of societal pressure — am I complimenting their brains enough, am I telling them how nice they are enough, am I encouraging their creative talents… enough?

So, here I am, in the middle of the consignment shop being questioned by my oldest as to if I think she is a slut for wearing certain types of clothes, ruminating about the food that I should and shouldn’t allow my youngest to eat, and wondering if I should be concerned about my son’s weight loss.

My horror at myself came when I grasped the uncomfortable fact that I was concerned about the perception of others… in some cases people I didn’t even know and probably wouldn’t want to know. I was concerned about how all of this would look reflected on me as a mother.

Later that day, when the stress was far behind and we had all retreated to our corners of the house, I googled “the best way to help your child eat healthy”. The first thing that popped up, surprisingly, was a direct answer to that question — “the best way to ensure your children make healthy choices in life is to let them see you make healthy choices”.

Okay.

Great.

Somehow it always rolls back around to being the mothers fault.

Now I realized I needed to focus attention away from my worries about the kids and look at myself… never a fun task. I had been eating healthy for over a year, my kids don’t even ask to go to fast food restaurants anymore, we have salads and fruits and lean meats. My oldest and I are currently practicing pescetarianism… the other two aren’t far behind. But, admittedly, I’ve been lacking on a steady exercise routine — this is where I needed to focus my change.

Last week I read an article about an article… I haven’t read the original article that seems to have pissed so many off. It’s in the April issue of Vogue and purchasing Vogue isn’t on my budgeted list. The original article by Dara-Lynn Weiss, talks about how she put her 7-year-old daughter on a diet. My dismay (along with others, I’m sure) is the way she went about it. In her own account, she talks about berating her daughter in public and focusing most of their private conversations around her daughters need to lose weight… I did mention she was 7, right?

I’m thinking Mrs. Weiss’ name will come up in future therapy sessions way more often then mine.

But… here’s the thing.

I think my youngest daughter is pretty and I do tell her this, often… physically attractive. I tell her I see her beauty in her mouth and her nose and her eyes that always pierce straight through to my soul. I see her beauty in the way she laughs and cries and screams and flashes those looks of contentment. I also think I need to show her how to be healthy by being consistently healthy myself — not by putting her on a diet or ridiculing her in public.

I think my oldest daughter is amazingly gorgeous — long and lean and silky hair and eyes that are a color that hasn’t been named yet. I tell her this often. She is also a brilliant reader and writer, an amazingly focused student, kind, and funny, and just the perfect amount of smartass to round her out. And I don’t think she dresses like a slut, I’m not even sure what a slut dresses like… a suit and tie, micro shorts, dread locks? I don’t know. And, I’m glad she stopped me as I ventured down a path that pisses me off when I hear others venturing down it — what we wear does not define who we are nor does it invite unwanted advances or unwanted criticism.

And my son… he’s absolutely adorable — long hair, long eyelashes, a smile that makes girls faint. I tell him how cute he is all the time. I tell him how kind he is all the time, almost saint like really. He’s smart and funny and laughs loud enough to catch a whole room on fire with his charm.

So, will they need therapy when they’re older — possibly.

Will they blame a mother who focused all her attention on their outward appearance — hell no.

Back to the article… I’m not necessarily counted in the “backlash” group. I’m not sure there’s an “I concur” group related to this but I’m sure I wouldn’t belong to it either. I’m just a mother who learned from the mistakes of my past and my mothers past and her mothers past. I’m a mother who thinks my kids are attractive and smart and kind and funny — the order of those changes, as it should.

My children, like your’s, are beautiful and have great hair and gorgeous smiles and enough intelligence to take-over the solar system and enough kindness in their souls to warm the Grinch’s icy heart.

I may think I’m shaping them into the adults they will become… but, really, they’re shaping me into the mother I will become.

Why can’t I tell my daughter she’s pretty?

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I want to hike the Appalachian Trail and sleep outside for weeks… alone.

I want to join the Peace Corps and end up in some far off land for a couple of years… alone.

I want to camp underneath the redwoods in California and not take a bath and not wash my hair and walk around in dirty clothes and eat cold beans out of a can… alone.

I want to sit on a blanket in the middle of nowhere until a light bulb of recognition turns on in my head and I jump to my feet and howl with the wolves and right then, in that moment, I know… it becomes clear.

I want to do all those things so I can discover who I should be, what I believe, who I can be… who I am.

But I can’t.

I can’t because I have kids and a career and a mortgage and a car payment and I have people who would think I was crazy. But, I’m not — I’m just 43 and finding myself.

So… what are my options?

How do we, as mothers and business leaders and teachers and people with our sanity, ensure that we keep our sanity in the quest to sort it all out?

A weekend excursion without the kids?

A five-mile run everyday while you listen to your favorite audio book?

A blog?

The options for those of us who have passed the point of doing all of our soul-searching before we “settle down and have kids” aren’t as limited as they seem.  We just have to be more creative with our time, more willing to parcel out our existential outings into shortened day trips or weekends away — or even a few hours locked away in our room to sweat it out with yoga.

To be stuck in a reality where you believe you are out of options is the most important battle you need to fight — stop believing, “this is it”.

A gray hair pops up and we panic, the pair of shorts that seemed loose last summer seems a bit snug now — I drive a Kia instead of a Land Rover. One glass of wine works like sodium pentathol. The waiter calls me ma’am. I can barely stay awake for the 10 o’clock news. Life has happened. But, I’m searching.

Searching for the me that I know I am. The me that tries to hide behind all the bullshit of life. The me that we all are, the business leaders and teachers and bus drivers and hair stylists and doctors and lawyers — the mothers. My searching is constant… my trying to be a better person is constant… my looking at myself is constant. Those times when I need to find myself somewhere at the edge of the ocean in California take a bit more planning these days — but, they still take place.

I can go on life-altering soul-searching journeys and still have my kids to school on Monday morning… as long as I set my alarm. I can sleep in the middle of the woods eating nothing but granola under the stars at night… I just have to stop at the vegan deli on my way out of town.

Possibly, my soul-searching might need to take place in Vegas… a different kind of wild lives there.

I can even post pictures on Facebook to prove it’s possible to find yourself… one weekend at a time. I can tweet my run-ins with wolves and coyotes and snakes and poison ivy. I can blog about all the possibilities and where I know they will take me — take us all who are still searching, still unraveling the mystery.

My life is just beginning to unfold. My self-actualizing-soul-searching is at its height. I am poised and ready to live among the creatures of the night… for a weekend at least.

My life is just beginning… this is going to be fun.

I’m 43 and finding myself.

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This is a poem I wrote about a year ago. I changed several things in it and wanted to share it again this week before Christmas. I am going to share three poems this week, three very personal poems, one for each of my kids. This one is for my oldest.

.

… because you’re going to dig your toes in one day,

You’re going to dig them in deep at the edge of the shore,

you’re going to feel the shift under your feet and you’re going to lose your balance and you’re going to steady yourself.

I know because I stood there too, I stood there and felt the waves try to pull me away as I steadied myself against the constant shifting of the sand,

… but this is not about me and where I stood, this is not about the waves that knocked me around. This is about the voice of that boy whispering, “I love you”, in the dark of the night and this is about the test that kept you up worrying and this is about your friend who stopped talking to you when she saw the way you looked at her boyfriend and this is about all the sleepless nights you have yet experienced — this is about you, my precious baby.

… because your phone will run out of battery one night,

the night you need it the most,

the night you pick it up to call me.

I’ll be waiting on the other end but my phone will never ring. I’ll look at the silence trickling off of it and I’ll wonder… I’ll get in my car because I’ll know where you are because we talk like that and you’ll see me driving up and you’ll scream at me in front of your friends but when you get in the car your screams will turn to tears of relief because I could hear you through the unused phone and then you’ll switch the radio in mid-cry as you gasp for more air to let it all out and The Maine will be on and we’ll start singing along and when we get home I’ll hear you skyping with your friends about how your “old” mom listens to The Maine and The Decemberists and all of your music and your friends will say you have a great mom and you’ll smile because you don’t see me in the hallway,

… but this isn’t about me. This isn’t about the unanswered calls I made and the tears of anger I cried. This is about you. This is about you balancing on that edge,

… because your friends will push you to think,

your friends will dare you to move and not all of them will want you to move in the right direction, not all of them will push you to see yourself the way they do. You will have to hear them yourself, my precious baby. You will have to make those choices yourself.

They will compel you to lie and laugh and run and skip and yell and curse and they will watch you stand on that edge… looking, deciding.

They will love you and they will hate you and they will leave you and they will return to you.

They will throw life at you and hope you’re ready because there are no do-over’s.

Your friends will be your world when you think I’m not around.

The waves will continue to pounce on you as you sink your toes in and you’ll reach your hand up to grasp hold of mine and you don’t see me… but I’m there. 

You’ll say, “everything is fine”, but I’ll know it’s not.

You’ll say, “leave me alone”, when I know you need me to sit.

You’ll scream at me and curse me and wish for me to leave…

But I’ll know.

I’ll know the sand is shifting so fast you’re struggling to stay above the waves.

But today, today my precious baby.

I hold you and you let me and I see the future because it’s already my past and I’ll beg you to hear me,

I’ll beg you to listen to me because I made those mistakes already and I walked that road already and I lost all my inhibitions around that bonfire and I danced naked in the middle of that house and I pulled my hand back the first time it was slapped and I stood where the waves break the hardest and I screamed to be heard… already.

I’ll yell for you to “keep digging your toes in”!

This time, you’ll listen. You’ll stop… and you’ll listen.

This time, you’ll say, “my mother told me about the shifting sand”. And you’ll look down at your phone and it’s fully charged but you don’t need to use it, you don’t need to call for me. And I’ll be looking at my phone too but it won’t ring.

And I’ll smile.

And I’ll stretch out my fingers as far as I can but I’ll never be able to grasp on…

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Her: Can’t you just delete the one’s you don’t like?

Me: Yes, but… there’s no sense in it. It’s 140 characters, not much room to screw up.

Her: Oh, that seems like plenty of room to me. Why would anyone want to do that anyway?

Me: I don’t know… it’s fun. It’s relaxing. It makes me happy.

Her: You don’t seem very relaxed right now.

Me: Mom, if you keep sneaking into my dreams and bringing me down, I’m going to request the Andy Garcia dreams again.

I do some things out of habit. Old habits. Ones that are hard to break or overcome or stop. I noticed this recently when my kids were all away for the night. It had been a complicated day which was spilling in to a complicated night and I was ready for it to end. I let my dogs in, locked up my house, and made my way to the kids rooms — making sure their night lights were off and their dirty clothes weren’t all over the floor. Then I went to the bathroom in the hallway between all their rooms and flicked the switch on… yes, on. I walked away then realized I didn’t need the bathroom light shining into my room that night as there were no small feet to pidder padder to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Their bathroom light has a tendency to shine at such an angle that it sheds a bit too much light in my room. So I turned around and flicked it off. Then I realized how completely dark my house was. I couldn’t see to manuever back to my room. I searched for the railing of the stairs to help guide me. Once I made it to my room, I then had to weave my way around to crawl in my bed. And there I was… in my bed startled by the complete darkness — the kind of darkness that makes you strain your eyes to see the shadows being cast about the room. The kind of darkness that you can hear — and it’s loud… as loud to your ears as it is blinding to your eyes. Unsettled at the shadows being cast across the walls, reactive to the dogs feet across the floor down stairs… I got up and made my way back to the kids bathroom and flicked the light back on.

Habits, like sleeping with the bathroom light on even when the kids aren’t home. Like having conversations with your mother in your sleep about Twitter. Like always asking “what if?” One’s we can live with and one’s that should probably be tossed out. Habits can control us and make us sick and make us vulnerable and make us weak — or they can fill a need… a void, perhaps.

I’ve taken up card making. It’s a very calming activity for me. I think about a friend and about how that friend has affected me and my life and I try to put thoughts and sayings in the card that express what I love about that friend — then I mail it off and hope it’s received with the love it was sent with. A new habit, I guess. One that feeds my selfish tendencies as well as makes someone smile on the other end — the best of both worlds.

I was thinking about a friend recently. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so I wanted to send her something special, something more than just a card, something I thought she would enjoy — I sent a pie. It made sense at the time… I thought “Hmm, haven’t seen you in a while, haven’t talked in a few weeks — a pie!” Turns out, her and her husband don’t like pie. Hate it even. Still been a while since we talked.

I do that sometimes… a lot actually. I act on my heart and I do it impulsively, sometimes. Other times I don’t act — I freeze. So… you either know I care about you without a doubt because I act on that emotion way too often or you are always wondering. Maybe I send a pie or a card or an email at 3:36 am. Sometimes I do things because my heart tells me to act… right then. And later, maybe not much later, my brain tells me there was a much better way. That probably makes me a little bent… but not too bad.

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I have a friend (I love saying that even though we’ve never actually met), she’s a writer — a real writer. Like a kick-ass-slap-you-in-the-face-and-make-you-stand-up-straight writer. Her mother died recently, a long drawn out emotionally draining death to that bitch cancer. But here’s my take-away on a piece of this… she’s writing. And it’s amazing. And she’s touching my soul and making me think about things I thought I was quite comfortably past.

My father died in November a couple of years ago. He had been in the hospital for over 30 days, a week of which was in the hospice unit. During those 30 days, I visited everyday — everyday. I spent many nights in that horrific chair that folds almost flat. If my day at work brought me close to the hospital, I would stop in there for lunch in the cafeteria with my mom — usually 2 or 3 times a week and every weekend.

My routine was simple, I went to my dad’s room. He would immediately say, “Hi sweetheart” or “Hi bulldog” (he took to calling me bulldog during that last month for some reasons I might talk about on another day), then he would say, “take your mother out of here”. My mom would already be getting up to come with me to the cafeteria. It wasn’t an enormous amount of time we would spend in there together — maybe 30 or 40 minutes. But it was our time — time to not worry about the cancer that was taking over my father’s body, time to not worry about the next test or medicine or oxygen levels. We would peruse all the various staples the cafe had to offer then we would sit off to the side and people watch — the greatest pastime of all. We would eavesdrop on conversations and smile at the familiar nurses as they walked by. We would make plans on what do to when they finally let Dad go home — a hospital bed and nursing care and a wheelchair… we had it all worked out. When we were done, we would head back up to Dad’s room (I always stopped at the coffee kiosk to get him a cup of coffee and mom one too), I would kiss him goodbye and let him know which night I would be staying with him and which day I would bring the kids by — and I would leave and carry on with my day. This was my routine… for a month, this was my routine.

After my mom died, I felt I was mourning both their deaths because it all happened so quick. I was numb for a while — in the beginning. One day, I found myself driving in a familiar area at lunch time — my car guided itself into the hospital parking garage. I walked to the cafeteria and perused the various offerings. I sat off to the side and I eavesdropped on a few conversations. I smiled at a few familiar faces. I stopped at the coffee kiosk on my way to the waiting area on the hospice floor. I sat down and drank my coffee… and I left and carried on with my day. There were no thoughts, no cognitive processing — just physical actions. I did this about 3 or 4 times over the next month or two — I don’t know why… but it felt good, the routine, the familiarity of it.

So, my friend, the kick-ass writer — brought that deeply buried memory of that routine to the forefront of my thoughts. Words do that for us sometimes. Words matter. They help us, they heal us, they break us, they anger us, they sadden us, they make us shake in fits of laughter. That’s my take-away from this — I don’t know why… but it feels good to experience all those things.

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A little over a year and a half ago, my son broke his arm. I was thinking about this today because I said good-bye to him this morning as he left on a 3 day camping trip with his class. I have often been disillusioned into thinking that as long as my kids are near me, I can protect them from harm — my love can protect them. I realize this is flawed logic but sometimes flawed logic is the hardest to let go of. Back to my son’s broken arm…

I had just pulled out of my driveway to make the 90 second journey to pick him up — I had my youngest daughter with me, she was barefoot and her hair was a mess. But, we were only going 90 seconds down the road to pick my son up from his Tae Kwon Do class — who would see her? As soon as I pulled away from my home, my phone rang. His instructor was on the other end and asked where I was. Knowing I wasn’t late to pick him up and knowing I had never gotten a call from his instructor — I immediately asked what was wrong. He responded that he was pretty sure my son had just broken his arm and I should hurry. I didn’t panic. My son had broken bones before — a finger, a hand… his head. I assumed this would be just another trip to the ER for a simple cast. When I got to his lesson, I went inside and immediately saw a swarm of parents around my son — they had looks of anguish on their faces as they turned to look at me. His forearm, shaped awkwardly like a “v”, was laying in his lap and he was pale. My stomach turned at the sight — my thoughts raced, I allowed panic to sink in just a bit.

My motherhood instincts kicked in as I lifted him into the car — thankfully, otherwise the panic was close to surfacing as he gazed at me for reassurance that it wasn’t that bad. I remember my youngest daughter, shoeless with messy hair, in the back — quiet. I’m sure she could sense my panic. My thoughts went to what everyone would say at the hospital when they saw her shoeless, messy haired self (motherhood panic encompasses all). My oldest daughter was at home getting ready to attend a homecoming game with four of her friends, who were also at my home — waiting for me to return to drive them there.

Within about five minutes, I made a call to the pediatrician to say we were going to the ER, I made a call to another parent to pick the older girls up from my house and drive them to the game, I made a call to the children’s father to come get my shoeless, messy haired youngest, and was allowing, once again, my mind to race as I gazed with a half-smile at my son.

We were at the hospital for the next 30 hours — there was a surgery, there were pins… there was pain and tears and a lack of sleep that parents know too well — there was love.

Love finds us no matter where we are or what we’re doing. It hunts us down to remind us that we matter and the people we love matter. It keeps us warm and safe and whole.

Love was there in the hospital room with me all night as I watched my son sleep. Love was there as I thought about sending him into surgery. Love was there as I worried he would be scared and alone.

When he awoke the next morning, I explained that he would need a “little surgery” to fix his arm. I tried to focus on the cool cast he would surely get at the end of this journey. We sat on his bed for hours that morning waiting for his turn to be called in to surgery. He never seemed panicked or scared — not really. I told him he would sleep through the whole thing and I would be there to watch him. I think love surrounded he and I.

The wait for him to get out of surgery was long and tiresome and filled with anxiety. I wasn’t with him. What if something happened while I wasn’t with him? Would the protective shield of my love reach him from the waiting room? Of course, that was more of my flawed logic. My presence didn’t keep him from harm, my love couldn’t protect him — only nurture and care and encourage and warm him.

It occurred to me that I had been with him when he broke his finger and when he broke his hand and even when he broke his head (yes, a story for another time).

Flawed logic.

So this morning, he was thrilled, happy, excited. I was sending him out on his own to enjoy what life was offering him today, tomorrow… this week. My love will keep him warm, my love will fill his heart, my love will help him become whole — the rest is up to him.

Picture from Zebrasounds.net — Check it out, you’ll thank me later.

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