Sunday, May 9, 2010

Things My Mother Taught Me

In honor of Mother's Day, I thought that I would share some things that I learned from my own mother.  Some of what she did was very, very good. Some not so good.  Some downright sucked.

On my 21st birthday, I asked my mom what she was like at my age.  At 21, my mom was married, had a new born infant (yours truly), and was about to be divorced. At 21, here I was trying to decide just how many bars I thought I could hit before I threw up.  So I asked her: Was she born mature?  I could barely get to class on time, how was she doing it all and raising a child?  Her answer has stayed with me, pretty much verbatim, these last 15 years:
"I was just like you, wanted to be out with my friends, and wasn't sure what to do most of the time.  Maybe I didn't always make the right choices, but I always did the best I could. And what I thought was best for you."
Huh.  You mean she wasn't born knowing everything?  It was a pretty radical idea to me at the time.

And this little gem of an epiphany can have the honor of being the first important thing I learned from my mom:

Being a Mom doesn't mean you have to be perfect.  You just need to try your best.
On the days when I feel like I am not Enough - enough of a provider, mentor, role model, playmate, teacher, employee, boss, friend, daughter...I just take a deep breath and ask if I am honestly trying my best.  And sometimes I'm not.  Sometimes I am slogging away, taking sloppy shortcuts, or short changing myself (or others).  But most of the time I am.  And I always, always do what I believe in my heart is the best for The Boy.  Sometimes doing what is the best isn't always obvious, so I in the wise words of my Mom: I just do the best I can.

Ex-husbands don't go away, they just become more annoying over time.
If you share a child with someone, no matter how much you can't stand them, wonder why you ever married them, think they are an idiot, etc., well, most of the time, they ain't going anywhere fast.  Even the deadbeats show up at some point.  And your child wants them around.  Regardless of what a loser Dad may be, every child wants their Mom and Dad to love them.  When split parents can't get along, even if it's just for an afternoon, your child starts to pretend it doesn't matter if both are there.  Or worse, starts doing more and more alone, because they are more worried about hurting their parents than about their own needs.  No 8 year-old should worry that they can't have both of their parents at a school concert, and they have to choose between their parents, because even 8-year olds know when people don't like each other.
And yes, this lesson was taught not because she did it right, but because she & my father did it wrong.  I was that 8 year-old.  And the 17 year-old that felt bad walking away from her Mom at her high school graduation to say hi to her Dad.  The 21 year-old that had to choose who got the 2 tickets to college graduation (damn that rain!).   Burned into my memory is the night of my wedding rehearsal,  at the Church practicing the ceremony, and turning around to see my mother jabbing my father in the chest with her finger.  Yup.  They were at it again.  At the time, I didn't understand what they could possibly have to argue about, they hadn't been married for over 30 years by then, and hadn't even seen each other for almost 10 years.  Dealing with a jack hole ex-husband myself now, I understand better where the acrimony lies.  My mom could give a rats ass about her own relationship with my father, that's not what they were fighting about.  They fought because she was the one that saw me hurting and dried my tears each time he disappointed me.  And it pisses her off to no end when he shows up to take a bow about what a great father he was.  It's hard as a parent to have an amicable relationship with someone that is both disappointing and hurting your kid more often than doing the right thing.  You want to rip them up, limb by limb, spit in their face , curse them, put a voo-doo hex on them, toothpicks under their get the idea.
My ex is annoying.  He is a deadbeat.  He is a bad father.  He was a worse husband.  And my son loves him. Wants to see him, wants his approval, and in his own little almost-3 year old way, makes it pretty clear that he wants his dad to be a part of his life.  My son is too young to understand that this man can be dangerous - that he can't live a normal life with a family, responsibility, and a genuine relationship.  What my ex can do, though, in a very structured and supervised way, is play with my son for a few hours, feed him lunch and then fade off into the sunset until the next time.  I can suffer in silence  with a smile, and if that fails, take a Xanax

It is a parent's job to make sure their child can take care of themselves. 
My mom drilled it into my head that it was her job to make me self-sufficient.  By 7, I did my own laundry and made my own lunch for school every day.  By 13, I cooked dinner Monday-Friday for the family.  By 16, I had a part-time job.  By 24, I bought my own home.  You get the idea.  Kids need to learn how to manage their money, balance work/school and a social life, pay their bills, and feed, bathe, and clothe themselves well before they move out on their own.  It is my job as The Boy's mother to make sure that he can hack it out in the real world.  To provide him chances to make mistakes, while I can still help him to clean them up.  I know he is only almost-3, but little things like letting him get the milk out of the fridge, help me to pour it, to not always drink with a lid on his cup are just the beginning of letting him spill it a little.  It's hard sometimes to stand back and let him do it, but when he turns around and announces "Mommy, I do it MYSELF.  I bigger now!" tell me I am on the right track with this whole independence thing.

Respect the privacy of others.
My mom never went through my stuff, tossed my room when I wasn't home, or read my diary.  Privacy was something that she valued, and she expected me to knock before I came into her room, ask before I borrowed something that wasn't mine, and not snoop around where I didn't belong.  And she extended the same courtesy back to me, even as a teenager.  By treating my privacy with respect, she taught me to respect other people's.  She also taught me that she trusted me, and that trust was something that I didn't want to lose.

Love what you do, work hard at it, but find your balance.
My mom has made an amazing career for herself.  No college education, and worked her way up the corporate ladder at one of the largest companies in the US.  But she missed a lot, too.  I know it was different in late 70's and 80's to be a working mom when employer's weren't so concerned with the looking politically correct and family-friendly, and technology allows me to be connected even if I am not physically present in the office.  I love my job, love the people I work with, love the money I make, and I love my time with my son.  I used to think, because everyone said so, that I must be sacrificing either my career or my child on any given day, that the elusive "work/family life balance" was like the holy grail of working mothers. I have realized over the past few weeks that is just bullshit.  There is no reason why I can't have both and do a kick ass job at all of it. Not saying I don't have help; I have amazing childcare, my cleaning lady, and the mental & emotional support of great friends.  And The Boy is pretty spectacular in doing his share - he packs his little backpack each day, because he knows that he is going to school, and Mommy is going to work.  School is his work, where he goes to learn new things, play with his friends, and have fun, and that's what mommy does at her work, too.  I don't want him to feel that I "have to" work; I mean, I do have to work, but I love it - I want to work.  I love the thrill of giving a kick ass presentation to a group of sales exec's and seeing them be engaged in what I am saying.  I love looking at the budgets and figuring out how to manage costs better and drive more revenue.  I love working with my team on solving new challenges, figuring out how to train more and more complex software packages to people with less time and less it all.  I hope that growing up with a mom that loves her career inspires him to find something that he loves to do; I hope that him seeing this helps him to support his future spouse (eek!) in her career when they have a family.  I hope that he is Michael Phelps, acknowledging his mom and all she get the idea.   Kids from working-parent homes were always called "latch-key" children.  That always sounded so sad to me..."Oh, poor Tommy is a latch-key kid.  No wonder he _________ (does drugs, gets bad grades, is difficult).  His mother WORKS."  No one ever says, "Tommy really thrived in college, when lots of his friends were binge drinking and not getting up for class.  He knew how to wake-up on is own, do his own laundry, and was comfortable making choices when he wasn't being supervised every minute of every day.  What a great job his mom did!"  I don't  think having responsibility is a bad thing for kids as they grow up; quite the opposite. They need to develop all of these skills of personal responsibility the same way they need to learn their ABC's.

So on Mother's Day, I would like to say a big old "Thanks Mom" for doing all that she did, and teaching me more than I am sure she realized or intended.  The lessons weren't always easy to recognize.  In fact, I didn't see a lot of the value of what I had learned from her until I became a mother myself.  The thing I hope you take with you from this rather long post is that we spend so much time trying to teach our little ones manners, sharing, taking turns, etc.  But it's the lessons that they witness each and every day that make the lasting impression when they are on their own.  Now if I could just remember to try to do my best to make sure the lessons I am teaching are the ones I want The Boy to learn, we will be just fine.

Happy Mother's Day!

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    It's The Little Things

    It's just 2 more days until Mother's Day; a holiday I am not sure I like all that much.  This is one of those days that I have felt really lonely being a single mom. As I listen to friends talk about what their kids (with their Husbands help) and their Husbands have done for them, I feel quite keenly that this is Just Another Sunday.  Really not a special day at all.  The Boy is still too young to really understand, so while I did get the customary pre-school gifts, which were very cute and thoughtful, I don't have a husband that is busy planning how I can relax for the day,  get me flowers, or ship me off for a spa day.  Nope, none of that here.  My first Mother's Day, my mom had gone out of her way to make it special, with a Lladro figurine of Mother and Child that I have always loved.  My second?  I don't even think I got a card.  I did make plans to take The Boy to the zoo last Mother's Day, and we did have a lovely time, but it was lonely.   Seeing all of those Mommy's & Daddy's, especially families with kids a similar age as The Boy.  It makes me sad sometimes, for what things should have been like for us.   I haven't really expressed this to anyone, I just kind of go with the flow; I hate when people feel sorry for me, or think I am being a complainer.

    Imagine my surprise when the Fed Ex truck pulled today, with miniature rosebush, ready for planting, just for me.  The card was simple: Happy Mother's Day to one of my favorite mom's.  Love, x .  It amazes me, sometimes, the incredible friends that I have.  The friends that remember I have no lover on Valentines Day, no one to stuff my stocking at Christmas (that sounds SO wrong), or anyone that plans something special for my birthday. 
    I am grateful not only for the love & friendship that the gift & card are symbols of, but also for being reminded that being single doesn't have to mean that I am alone.  

    Sunday, May 2, 2010

    This Blogger's Dilemma

    When I started this blog, I did it anonymously.  Not only do I have an ex-husband that I don't want snooping around in my nooks and crannies, but I already share a great deal of my life on Facebook and another, much smaller, on-line community based site.  I share pictures of The Boy, of myself, and provide status updates of my most mundane activities.  I talk in detail about sleep problems (The Boys, not mine), ex-husband problems, potty training, boogers, favorite songs and what my kid will and will not eat.  I discuss how many hours he sleeps, what he eats, if he is tall enough, weighs enough, talks enough, can sit still long enough...all of it.  Nothing is sacred.  And I love it.  Love the intimacy and real friendships that have evolved from a bunch of women who found each other by chance.  And I love their miracle kids.  I feel like these people are part of my family.

    But when I started this blog, I didn't want it to be about that stuff; I wanted it to be about me. Me. ME ME ME.  Of course my son plays prominentaly in any discussion about myself; I love being a mom, and feel that it has changed me in ways that I am only beginning to understand.  I decided that I wouldn't be posting any photos here.  I wouldn't be talking about The Boy, except in the context of how I felt about being a Mom.  I don't know where this blog will eventually end up; don't know what turns it will take in the future, but for now what I want it for, what I need it for, was so that I could think about and sort through how I feel about being a single, working mom, about my career, about my life.  I looked at some single mom blogs, and some of them are pretty good, but a lot of them seem to be about dating, about men, about dealing with ex's, etc.  I hope to be discussing most of those topics at some point, but I want to explore how I feel about my life.  My job, my friends, my son, my ex, my family -- they are all just a part of it.

    Which brings me to my dilemma.  When I started this blog, I figured I would just write and write and eventually, some readers would find me.  Well, after entry 1, I needed some feedback, so I asked a friend that has an amazing blog, the blog that inspired me to start writing this actually.  Said friend linked (with my permission) to my blog from hers (shameless plug: Visit this woman's blog - it is incredible! It doesn't matter if you are a lawyer or not, it's a great read), so the first people to read my blog are, naturally, criminal defense attorneys, who didn't seem terribly interested,  and people that know me - that know parts of me; the mom parts.  I love my friends for supporting me and giving me encouragement.  Love them for wanting to get to know the other parts of me.  But it worries me, too.  I am trying to find my voice, to find my story.  I am not sure what that story is yet and am learning as I go.  What if they don't like these other parts of me that they will meet, some for the very first time?   Will I be, can I be,  true to my voice now that I have lost my anonymity? If I can't speak from my heart, is there any purpose in continuing this at all?  Yeah, I didn't think so either.

    So this leads me to the message for my friends:  I hope they like the other parts of me as much as they like the mom parts, but feel that I should warn them: they may not. But remember that the non-mom parts have helped to shape the pieces and parts of me that you do know and love.  I am still the same person, the same mom, the same friend that I have been these last years.  The real story that I want to tell is not about any individual piece or part of me; it's about where those pieces overlap and collide.  Where the pieces are at war with each other, and where they have found a surprisingly peaceful co-existence.  That's the story that is interesting to me, the journey that I want to explore more of, embrace and live each day.  Welcome my friends, to my little slice of the blogosphere, it's really great to finally meet you.

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    Top 10 Reasons Being a Single Mom is AWESOME

    10. No other adult around to make fun of me when I dance the Hot Dog, sing the theme song to Little Einsteins, or cry at the end of Meet the Robinsons, Lady and the Tramp, or pretty much any sappy movie.

    9. I OWN THE REMOTES. All of them. I can flip through the channels all day long, watch Animal Planet, or any chick flick I desire with zero complaints. Once the boy goes to bed of course. Prior to that, he owns the remotes. Must be a genetic thing.

    8. When I say I have a headache, it means I have a headache. It's not super secret code.

    7. If I announce we are having cereal for dinner, it is met with clapping and happy smiles.

    6. I always know who left the dishes in the sink or forgot to take out the garbage. That would be me, on both counts.

    5. No one complains when I don't have time to shave my legs.

    4. The feeling of accomplishment and pride that I take care of my son and provide for him physically, financially and emotionally. He is happy, loving, sensitive, amazing - and does not show any signs of having the predisposition to torture small animals, be a date rapist, or raid the pension funds of the people that work at his company due to his "domineering" mother.

    3. When The Boy goes to bed, that's my time to do whatever. Read, watch bad tv, chat with my girlfriends, catch up with work, go to sleep early...I have much more "me" time than most of my married friends seem to.

    2. Not having to argue or compromise my parenting beliefs with someone in order to be "fair". I do what I think is best. Period.

    1. The special bond I have with The Boy. He is my buddy, my muse, my heart, my soul. The music I hum when no one else is listening. We are a team, partners, and I hope someday when he is older, we will be friends. For now, I am just Mommy, and that is more than fine with me.

    Quick Hobby Update

    Cup-A-Cakes: Still no interest, but those pesky teachers I fed are after me to make more. They all want my recipes, which I didn't write down at all, and keep saying I should sell them. I don't want to sell them, so need to figure out what I did and write it down before I get suckered into making more cupcakes!

    Birds: I just filled up the bird feeders this morning. Again. They are being swarmed by sparrows and starlings. Even my almost 3 year old reports to me "those birds make a big mess". He was incredibly excited to see a squirrel out there eating what fell on the ground. I did see a squirrel feeder, but managed to hold onto my credit card and didn't purchase. He was even MORE excited to see a cat laying in wait, behind the playhouse, watching the birds. We could have an episode of Wild Kingdom right on my patio before the week is over.

    State quarters: I spent his quarters on tolls. Thank goodness!