- “Who said you could eat that?!”
- “We’re going to be late!”
- “You should have peed before we left!”
- “Did you sleep in that?!”
- “Throw that away!”
- “Where are your shoes?!”
- “I already answered you!”
- “Stop asking me that!”
- “Brush your hair!”
- “Don’t put yogurt in your nose!”
“Mom, do you want me to make a list of everything you do wrong?”
This question came from my son. Nothing provoked it. It was just something on his mind and he thought he would be helpful. I declined, and now I think we can add me declining his unsolicited assessment of my job performance to the list of things I’ve done wrong — feedback is good, right? It would be good to have my shortcomings itemized by the tiny human boss I gave life to.
However, I already have a critic inside my head that’s pretty good at telling me everything I do wrong, so maybe I don’t need her and my son comparing notes — can’t we all just laugh at me and get along?
This same son once told me when he grows up he wants to be a great man so I have to raise him right. When I asked how I was doing so far he shrugged and said, “Okay, I guess.” He’s a tough boss to please. I still have a lot to learn about parenting, like how to resist rolling my eyes when my son criticizes me. But every now and then I can add something relevant to the conversation.
A while back I (thought I) was a seasoned second-time mom in a mommy-and-me group surrounded by younger first-timers. One newbie asked what everyone thought was the best and worst parts of being a mom.
Now, there are a lot of priceless things, like source material for a blog, but that’s not what I said. I told the group the best thing about being a mom is the love — nothing compares to the love you feel for your child and the love you get in return. I don’t care how much you love your spouse/partner (and I do), every mom knows what I’m talking about and you’re all nodding your head.
As far as the worst thing goes, I skipped over lack of sleep, weight gain and accelerated aging and went straight to the truth. The worst thing is the worry — nothing prepares you for the absurd amount of time a mom spends worrying. About everything. I can’t even get started on this one. Worry consumed me even before my oldest son became ill with cancer. I wear worry like an accessory. It hangs around my neck like an ugly chain.
Nobody knows the future. That’s what is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. But as parents we learn from the past and each other. For example, I knew a mom who told me her three year-old son had an inconsolable crying and hyperventilating fit over something. “We had to shove his face in a mud puddle to get him to calm down,” she said. The mud puddle technique never got into my repertoire. I’m not clear on the logic — perhaps she thought if the baby couldn’t breathe he couldn’t cry? This story came from a mom from a different generation and it shows how much easier it was to get away with banana parenting techniques before cell phones.
Now let me tell you her kid turned out just fine. Most do regardless of our eccentric decisions — kids are the most durable thing on the planet. They go through so much turmoil on the road to adulthood yet (most) become productive grown humans.
I screw up every day and my son somehow makes it to bedtime unscathed and relatively happy. One day he will appreciate having a complicated mother. After all, he’ll need something to discuss with his therapist when he’s older.
Or material for a blog…
- My morning coffee
- When I perfectly time the avocado
- When the snow flies off the roof of the car while I drive and makes what looks like a vapor trail
- New slipper-socks
- Finding an excellent condition Kate Spade purse at the thrift shop
- New flannel pajama pants
- In-n-Out Burger
- Steamed potstickers from Chin Chin
- Sleeping in
- The sun shining anytime November thru April
- Someone else doing the dishes
- Nailing it at parallel parking
- When my kids listen to me
- A foot massage
- A comment on my blog
Most of us are lucky enough to be born without flaw or blemish. We come into this world about as perfect as we’re ever going to be. Our bodies grow and develop, we reach our peak, then we age and decline. It happens to all of us. Along the way we acquire scars, bruises and fractures. Every one of these is a story unto itself.
When I was two I broke my collar bone after falling off a kitchen chair. My family was within arms reach but they were too busy applauding me for sitting by myself “like a big girl.” I then went a long time without any major body damage until I turned thirty-two and had my gallbladder removed. The operation left two tiny slit-like scars on my abdomen and one inside my belly-button. Coincidentally, my paternal grandmother also had her gallbladder removed at the same age, but she died days later from a post-surgical infection.
At thirty-three I became pregnant and experience the body altering process all pregnant women go through, until the end, when I had an emergency cesarean after my water broke and my body had no idea how to coordinate labor. I developed sepsis and, I swear, I never saw people move so fast in a hospital before as my son was cut from my body within minutes of me spiking a fever. I was left with a beautiful baby and a not-so-beautiful gash extending from hip to hip across my lower abdomen. I would go on to have two more cesareans, both over the same scar, when I gave birth to my next son and daughter.
Sometimes our scars tell a dramatic story of how we skirted what would have been a catastrophic outcome had the event occurred a hundred years ago. Sometimes our broken bones and scars are minor, the result of accidents, and heal nicely on their own. Either way, they mark us up like a map representing the moments when our body altering experiences become life altering.
I have one such body and life altering moment coming up very soon, and I have yet to make a decision about the full extent of how it will leave its mark on me.
While the medical community debates whether Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ is really breast cancer, pre-cancer, or should be downgraded to dysplasia — the treatment remains the same — cut it out, slice it off, remove those bad cells from the body. DCIS is viewed as a potential threat that could someday become invasive cancer. The treatment is nip it before it has a chance to become threatening.
In other words, I have to have surgery and the date is coming up fast. The great news is I won’t need chemo or radiation. FYI, there is nothing medically to suggest I was at risk for bc. You have to go up two generations to a distant aunt before you find anyone in my family with it; I tested for all nine known genetic mutations that contribute to bc and I have none of them. In fact, my medical profile would suggest I have a low risk.
Yet here I am.
The decision I face is what to do about the other breast. Many women opt to have both removed so they never have to worry about breast cancer again. I’m not sure I have the courage to do this. It’s wrenching enough to part with one. (Is it courage? I’m in the thick of wrestling with this decision and I can’t tell if I’m approaching it from bravery or fear).
I’m an extremely adaptable person, but I also have difficulty letting go of things. Even things that are better off gone from my life, I tend keep them longer than I should. I also have a hard time making decisions because I’m overwhelmed by seeing all the possible consequences, and I wind up frozen. I would love if/when a difficult decision arises that the right path be self-evident. I prefer no-brainers. (Who doesn’t). I guess this is wishful thinking — life rarely smacks me with no-brainers.
Thankfully, no matter what I choose I will come through this looking pretty much normal again. I’m lucky the advancements in plastic surgery can create a new silhouette that resembles my natural one. I’m lucky I don’t live a hundred years ago.
So the cartography of my body will be drastically redrawn. There will be new scars, both physically and emotionally. The landscape will change and be replaced with something artificial.
All this is swimming around in my head where I’m drowning in my own thoughts, and meanwhile my surgeon’s office wants an answer from me today. I still don’t know what I’m going to tell them.
My mother was forty when she gave birth to me. This was in an era when women were generally finished with childbearing around thirty, rather than now when many women are just getting started at that age. When my mom was pregnant there was no such thing as genetic testing, no amniocentesis, no nucal-translucency test and no ultrasounds. It was widely assumed to be very risky for both mother and baby to be pregnant after forty.
Family legend goes my mother spent two years convincing my father they should add a fourth baby to the family. Then it was another couple years of trying until she finally became pregnant with me. My mother didn’t tell anyone she was expecting for the first six months. Instead, she let her friends and neighbors think she was getting fat. She refused to wear maternity clothes and bought larger sized normal clothes instead. My mother was a beautiful and vain woman who looked like Natalie Wood, but she was also superstitious and known to wear a splash of red to ward off the evil eye. Her vanity took a back seat to the combined pressure of her superstitions and intense need to be protective of herself and unborn me. (How my mother ended up with my father, who looked like Larry Fine, was a mystery to me — until she told me he was the nicest and funniest man she ever met, and when I got married I also chose the nicest and funniest man I ever met, but this is story for another time.)
So there my mom was, in all the glory of the late 60’s, the anomaly of being and old new mom. Granted she wasn’t quite pushing fifty, like me, but I find it interesting that we share the experience of having a baby late in life. Once I became a mom, I spent more time thinking about my own mother and trying to figure her out. She died of cancer when I was seventeen, during the normal rite of passage of adolescence that drew me further away from her and toward my own identity. She died before I got through that phase and would have the opportunity to go back to her as a young adult and form a mature relationship. Part of me is forever stuck in teenaged rebellion because of this, but another part is remarkably mature because I had to grow up fast and figure things out for myself.
After my mother died I had the idea I would be a young mom so I could spend as much time as possible with my children. To quote Al Capone in “Thrill Ride,” “Nothing ever goes how you plan.” Even though I met my husband in my 20’s it would be years before we’d start a family together. We thought we were done with babies after two beautiful boys, but we were wrong. Child loss fueled an intense desire in me to have one more, and we had no place else to turn except science.
Like my mother before me, we spent two years discussing whether having another child was the right decision, then another year trying to get pregnant. And like my mother before me I didn’t tell anyone until nearly the sixth month. But unlike my mother before me I had every test under the sun and nearly constant monitoring to make certain both the baby and I remained healthy and without complications.
My son recently asked me to describe my mother — his grandmother — for him. I said she was beautiful, protective and loyal. I said there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her family. She knew what was best for others and sometimes herself. I said she was a good bargain shopper but had trouble making decisions so she wound up buying the same blouse in different colors. She liked health food but not exercise. She loved pecan pie. She wore Maybelline liquid eyeliner. She had a temper and was also extremely loving.
My son said she sounded exactly like me, except for the eyeliner.
I never thought about how I’d wind up resembling my mother because, truth is, I don’t know her that well. For years I couldn’t see the traits we shared. Only looking back and after talking with my older siblings do I see her as someone enormously strong and willful, who survived trauma, setbacks and a crazy family to eventually flourish later in life. This description fits me. It probably fits you, too.
And it will also probably fit my daughter.
The arc of a woman’s life isn’t set in stone but there are many things we all share. I’m happy the arc of my life has so much in common with my mother’s. I feel her willfulness and strength supporting me whenever I need it. And I feel her love every time my heart beats.
And so will my daughter.
- “Who left this here?!”
- “Where’s my change?!”
- “It’s not bleeding, you’re fine!”
- “Why is this sticky?!”
- “Brush your teeth!”
- “I don’t run a restaurant!”
- “Can’t you make your own nuggets?!”
- “Figure it out yourself!”
- “Why is my phone dead?!”
I recently donated all my self-help books to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was constantly reminding me I have little serious interest in actually improving myself. I’m fine, thanks. But I’m keeping all my old notebooks because gawd those can’t get into the wrong hands.
I recently donated all my yoga tapes to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was constantly reminding me I never do yoga. But I’m keeping my yoga pants because they’re freakingly comfy.
I recently donated all the clothes I thought I’d someday wear again to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was constantly reminding me I’m never going to be the size I was before I had babies. But I’m keeping the flannels because they’re freakingly comfy.
I recently donated all my old crafting/rug hooking/scrapbooking projects I bought but never opened or finished to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was reminding me I’m incapable of doing anything Pinterest-y. But I’m keeping the adult coloring books because those actually work.
I recently donated all my unfinished pine furniture pieces to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was reminding me I can’t make a simple decision like what color to paint an unfinished piece of furniture. But I’m keeping the decorative drawer pull knobs because dammit at least I chose those.
I recently donated my treadmill and free weights to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was reminding me I never exercise. But I’m keeping all the hangers I had on the treadmill because now I have to find a new place to pile up my clothes.
I recently donated the fancy party trays someone gave me for my wedding to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was reminding me I never host any fancy parties. But I’m keeping the fancy booze glasses because those are cool.
I recently donated all my doubts and fears about the future to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was reminding me that life is hard and scary. But I’m keeping a healthy sense of caution because that’s helpful sometimes.
I recently donated the sinking feeling that life is flying by way to quickly to Goodwill because the only thing it’s good for was reminding me not to live in the moment. But I’m keeping my sense of gratitude because life is precious.