The Food Machine Is Getting Tired

IMG_2028The other day I was at a gathering of moms that ended in a potluck dinner. Pleased to be there, I soon realized that I had forgotten my fruit-salad contribution to the meal.

Panicking (depending on the group of women you are with, it doesn’t do to forget your contribution), I consulted with the hostess, who quickly told me not to bother. She surveyed the mountains of food already there and said, “We’re all mamas — we make too much. We just want to feed everyone!”

You know what? Not this mom right now, not so much. I’m feeling very unmotherly in the feeding department.  After more than a decade of being the main person to feeding four, Mom’s food pipeline is running out.  I am so ready for other people to fuss over my wellbeing, while I sit around before dinner with a glass of wine.

I’m ready for other people to get agitated when I don’t like some part of my meal. “Oh, you don’t like mushrooms MIXED with your peas. I’ll go back to the kitchen and start over again from scratch!”

Not that I do much of that with my kids any more. I did have a belief when they were very young, influenced by perky parenting magazines, that I should foster a happy dining atmosphere and a love of healthy food. It wasn’t much skin off my nose if I put aside a portion of raw broccoli for the one who doesn’t like cooked broccoli. Broccoli still had to be retrieved out of the refrigerator and cut up.

But after a while, two things happened. My brain began to slow down like an overheated computer. I simply couldn’t keep track of every nuance of who liked what. Secondly, they got older, and even my indulgent mommy self could see that the love of food thing wasn’t working. They wanted ketchup on everything, and they were beginning — gasp — sound like spoiled brats. Enough. It was time for them to graduate to eating everything they were offered without complaint. We’re still working on the complaining part, but these days, it’s more like a news alert.

Then everyone’s health issues stepped in. We discovered one daughter is celiac at about the same time she became a dedicated vegetarian. My menopausal self suddenly discovered I needed to cut out sugar and most carbs.  My husband needed to seriously reduce his red meat intake. The remaining girl responded to the increase in tofu and gluten-free products appearing at the dinner table by upping her ketchup intake

Which gets me back to my potluck. I’m not that jazzed about feeding people. I can’t see how the feeding machine is going to rev back up while everyone is still at home, but I could be wrong.

Maybe my non-celiac daughter will graduate to cooking health foods from her current kick of baking huge wheat-flour-based concoctions with no recipe (delicious 50% of the time!).

Maybe my other daughter will stop looking like I’ve asked her to behead a baby seal when I ask her to chop up sweet peppers for dinner (fiddly little seeds inside).

Maybe my husband will decide he wants to explore cuisines of the world every night as a relaxation tool.

I’m expecting a long wait. The photo at the beginning of this post is a little nest of orange peels I noticed on a bench one day. From a distance (actually, I didn’t have my glasses on), it looked like a lovely little orange rose. Close-up, it was still rather cool and seems to have meaning and weight in reference to this post — something used up that has become something beautiful.

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Pictures of my Heart

Aly Heart 001There are pictures of hearts all over my house, delightful spontaneous outpourings from the girls’ arts explorations. Lopsided heart shapes, scraggly letters staggering along proclaiming love — each one is priceless.

Plenty of them — sigh of relief — are addressed to Mom, but really, if I look at the scraps of paper, cardboard, stones and giftwrap I’ve grabbed and saved over the years, there is something deeper going on. Just like I have storage boxes filled with their early scribbles and mutant-head-with-stick-body drawings, there are now stacks of heart drawings from both girls. As if this was the next developmental stage of visual self-expression.

For the last few years, I hadn’t really thought about their developmental growth in terms of visual arts. Once it was clear in the early grades that their brains and hands were working together well, I stopped thinking about what might come next.

But I’m noticing it now because we are firmly entrenched in a new stage — faces. Proper, serious attempts to draw realistic faces, fretting over the details of eyes and how to draw a nose (followed by vampire teeth and elf ears). They’ve both been doing landscapes for a while, but that has been part of their school work. Trees, horses and bird nests may or may not have come straight out of their heads and hearts. These faces are different. No one has asked them to do it. It’s just when pencil and paper are handy, that’s what they turn their minds to.

Their friends are doing the same, and all the drawings look similar, as if for this age bracket, faces are what their brains need to do next. And most of the faces look the same – big eyes, glamorized lips, more doll-like than human.

I’m glad I saved all the hearts so I can have them to remember their first tangible expressions of love. Personally, I’d be just fine if we all hovered in that stage forever. But I’m jazzed to see what comes next. The refrigerator and the storage boxes are ready and waiting.

Aly bw Face 001

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Lighten Up and Love Deeply

ronan

Ronan

I’ve been following the Little Seal blog for a long time. It is a passionate, beautifully-written chronicle of a mother caring for her terminally-ill child. Even though you’d think as a mother that you can’t bear to read it, you can and do, and you feel grateful afterwards.

Emily Rapps’ son Ronan died here in Santa Fe on February 15, just before his third birthday. He had Tay-Sachs Disease, a genetic disorder which is incurable and always fatal. Emily’s book about the last three years, The Stillpoint of the Turning World,  is coming out this week.

But there’s another reason why I’m blogging about this. Emily has compelling counsel for us all. As she puts it, parenting a child with no future has taught her to stay in the moment. As she watched others stressed by the demands of parenting, she learned the importance of taking it easy because nothing is forever.

It sounds bleak but it isn’t. It is completely uplifting. Emily went on the Today Show talk about this today — here is her video. Also check out her Today Show post. As for me, at this moment, I get to watch my dog sleeping in the sun and the dirty dishes piled in the sink. I am looking forward to picking up my girls in half an hour. Right now. For today.

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The Reality of Birthdays

Birthday roses!

Birthday roses!

I turned 54 this week. I’ve had a lovely time of it, but there’s no avoiding the fact in the last year or so, my body has taken one of those turns. “Suddenly,” the wrinkles and the grey have reached critical mass, and I look different, at least to myself.

I really am an older mother.

My hair, once an interesting bronzy-silver, is now a decidedly silvery-bronze. Let’s not discuss the eyelids. When I smile, little rays burst out the sides of my eyes. It’s cool, but man, do I look my age. My skin is getting softer, like my grandmother’s, whose skin in her 70s ended up powder soft and covered with wonderful little patchwork crinkles all over her face and arms.

But this is not really about complaining (Ok, it is a little bit…). This is about absorbing how I really do look like an older mother now. I was probably deluding myself, but when the kids were born, I felt my age wasn’t totally clear. I didn’t hide it, but it was nice to surprise people.

As my girls go through their teens, my hair will probably stay grey, by my choice, unless I do something silly like dye it purple. In their ascendance, I will be manifesting the signs of (happy and healthy, I hope) decline. I will not be as agile, alert, fashionable and fun as younger moms. I’ve known it all along, but looking at those digits — 5 4 – it feels more real, right there with the clarity of a cliff edge in open sun.

By the time both girls are out of college, I’ll be in my mid-60s. B arrived by adoption when I was 42, and L was an unexpected bonus whom I gave birth to when I was 43. I comforted myself at the time with the idea that they would be old enough to be on their own when I started really declining into old age.

Now that I’m halfway through this ride, that really doesn’t seem good enough. I want more — more youth, agility, clarity and health. Who knows what the future holds, but this is what later birthdays tend to make me think about. That and gym memberships.

The unvarnished, un-made-up me, now 54. Photo chosen by my daughter. Note the starbursts around my eyes...

The unvarnished, un-made-up me, now 54. Photo chosen by my daughter. Note the starbursts around my eyes…

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Letting go of showing up for everything

IMG_0659This week, I’m reposting one of my favorite posts as part of a “Whole Lotta Love” link-up, highlighting a post that flopped, a post didn’t get enough love when it was first posted.

This represents a sweet turning point for me as I realized how I was letting change happen, how it became clear that this mom, physically and mentally, couldn’t keep up anymore. And that it was ok.

The girls are in double digits now. It’s time to stop looking like the shell-shocked guy in my daughter’s picture, left, with too many parachutes in the air. This post was where it started:

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Recently, I found myself sitting in a warm car in a mall parking lot just after sun-up with B. Under grey skies, the car running for heat, we listened to a CD someone had made for us that we both liked. She burbled like a fountain about her day. We were waiting for a teammate and his parent to meet us and drive her an hour away to a hockey game. She was surprisingly excited, considering she didn’t know this family well. I, cozy in slippers and sweat pants, sipping tea, was totally grateful to this parent, thrilled to be going home after this drop-off.

One of the worries hovering in the back of my mind is the small stain of loneliness that spreads when the girls have big-life experiences without me. I’ve gone to almost every ballet performance, show, recital, game or pubic event open to me. It was exciting. This is part of what I’m parenting for, these celebrations marking my children’s life. Even if I’ve been bored – most of these events are things only a mother could love — I’ve wanted to be there for everything, to share what they are doing, seeing, learning. I know part of this is driven by me, but the parenting root of it is that I simply wanted to be there for them, as physically as possible.

If I take that thought to its logical conclusion, then I’d be sitting in small hard chairs running back and for between the third and fifth grades every day so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I’d be sitting in on their play dates, reliving Harry Potter for the 130th time and trying to laugh at fart jokes.  And I simply can’t. I’m just a prim old lady when it comes to poop, and I’m an impatient b*#^h after say, the tenth time of hearing the same thing again. It reminds me of how much I looked forward to going on swings with my toddlers and realizing, with sadness, that what was needed was much more of mommy pushing swings like a robot than mommy getting to fill in missing holes of her childhood.

But I see now, as in all other things, that nature is handling the growing separation beautifully by the carefully modulated method of overwhelm. My brain is physically not capable of handling what they’re doing. Their interests are growing…their awareness of their interests…their opinions of their interests – all soaring exponentially in every direction. I couldn’t keep up with it if I cloned myself 100 times.

I’m fielding their ideas like a tennis-ball pitching machine that has run amok: Why are people camping about banks? Can I have mascara? I’m not doing that because I don’t feel like it! Mom, did you know the Egyptians used to stuff hair up their nose when they died? That food makes me GAG, Mom!

And, dear god, the driving is ramping up this year. Besides our dawn rides, I’ve turned down my first opportunity to pick up my child after a party at 10pm. The part of me that frets about not being there (we’re not even knocking yet at the door of my not being wanted) is way back in line, while my brain open-mouthed with amazement, cogitates make-up and protest movements. Part ADD, part brain freeze, part ruthless, Darwinian choosing of the most important. Whatever – the girls are claiming their own lives, and nature is helping me let them.

WholeLottaLoveBadge

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Introducing My Girls to One Billion Rising

IMG_2017Yesterday, B’s class went to our local event of One Billion Rising, the worldwide gathering to protest violence against women. B was all about the flashmob dancing and the fun of being in a crowd, but some of the substance sunk in.

Her teacher wisely used the event to talk to both the boys and the girls about owning your power and being confident — age-appropriate messages on how to protect yourself as you get older and life gets more complicated. For B, the whole notion of her body being holy — a lyric in the song — made her light up like a candle.

But it also seemed right that she get a small sense of the darker side what people were rising for. Because she’s always peeking over my shoulder when I check my computer, last night I let her and her sister see the headlines about Oscar Pistorius. She had noticed and admired him this summer at the Olympics — who hadn’t? Yet horribly, right here and right now, was exactly what all the marching and dancing had been about.

It’s excruciating to bring this stuff to my girls’ attention. To juxtapose both on Valentine’s Day adds a strange irony. Neither girl wanted to spend a lot of time on it, so we didn’t, except to talk for a little while about how looks and image can be deceiving and potentially dangerous if you don’t use your head.

But it’s time to start slowly dealing the dual messages — yes, your body is holy. Don’t let anyone see it otherwise. Proceed openly but cautiously. Listen to your intuition. Don’t get cynical but protect yourself.

Learn what really happens out there in the world, but darling, in the process, please, please, please, don’t lose your magic.

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Mom-to-Mom Connections: Getting Better and Better

IMG_2002I got to sit around for several hours the other day with another mom while our daughters took skiing lessons. We drank hot drinks and covered every topic under the sun — from teachers, gun ownership and Obamacare to husbands, the importance of sports and dying turtles. It was lovely.

Later, it struck me that the tone of mother-to-mother conversations have gotten so much nicer. These conversations have always been vital, but not always comfortable. Now that our kids are older, we’ve all been been knocked around more as parents. We’ve all had a failure or 10. I find that, generally, I am much more tolerant of other mom’s decisions. As they are of mine.

How I remember those toddler get-togethers when a bunch of earnest moms would all talk about naptimes, bottles versus breasts, the introduction of sugar into the diet, the quality of shoes, the importance of infant and toddler brain stimulation. It was all so intense, so fresh, everything felt so IMPORTANT.

And it all was important, but in our tremulous, self-conscious states, anything anyone did that was different from what we did was so threatening and potentially disastrous. We “knew” that everything that happened in the first three years was going to have unalterable life-changing consequences. The result — we’d all push away anything that was different than what we decided upon.  So, a comment like “Oh, you think those are good shoes?” really meant “I hate to tell you, but you are ruining your child’s feet forever, whereas I have made the right decision and you really should be doing what I’m doing.” And deep under that, perhaps was the thought “I can’t bear to think that I’ve chosen shoes that will give my child flat feet, so I’m turning on you instead because you’re not backing me!”

These days we’ve all had our sharp edges worn off. I have a child with flat feet and there’s not much I can do about it, and I now know it’s not really clear shoes would have trumped genetics.

It’s hard to summon the energy to be judgmental about other parents’ decisions. Maybe this is merely the quiet lull before cars, drugs, and SATs, but overwhelm has won, and it’s quieter, easier…and the support feels more solid. I’ll take it.

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