As a parent, there is nothing better than introducing your children to things that you loved as a child, and watching the amazement on their face as they likewise are enamored by that same thing.
Or not, as may be the case. In fact, as always seems to be the case. That is to say, if I loved something as a child, it is almost a certainty that my children will abhor it.
Now, in both my and their defense, things like technology have come a long way in my thirty or so years (#liar!). With movies, for instance, special effects have evolved to the point where it is almost impossible for my kids to enjoy the same movies I loved. When I staged a screening of Pete’s Dragon for my children, my hopeful enthusiasm that they would cherish Eliot and Pete’s friendship as much as I did quickly went south when they started laughing in all the wrong places. Same thing with Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Shaggy D.A.
But they are vintage, I explained. It was a simpler time, you have to ignore the grainy picture, the poor acting, and the strange voice-overs.
They choose their movies now.
I moved on to books, and enjoyed a small window of success. I introduced my charges to The Paper Bag Princess and Where the Wild Things Are, with huge fanfare. When they asked me to reread these at night, my confidence in my tiny self was restored. Oh yeah, who’s your momma now?
As a fan of books, my kids are used to me shoveling them down their throats. I know, I know, I should back off, let them come to titles on their own terms, but I can’t help myself. YOU. MUST. LOVE. THIS. My enthusiasm gets the best of me. I can’t be tamed.
Yet with certain things I truly
obsessed over loved, I tried to take a more delicate path, in order to ensure success. Since I know from past experience, when I return from the library with an armload of books for my kids, I’m met with three eye rolls, I have purposefully kept my lips sealed about the best book ever written for adolescents. The Outsiders, duh.
I speak for the generation of teenagers who listened to Kool and the Gang when I explain what The Outsiders meant to me. Despite never knowing how to properly pronounce The Socs, this book, about a family of orphaned boys and their peers, the Greasers, stole my heart and my imagination and made me pine for chocolate cake for breakfast. I went on to read every book S.E. Hinton ever wrote and wore out our Betamax machine replaying Francis Ford Coppola’s movie adaptation. Ponyboy, Sodapop, and Dally, ripped from Teen Beat magazine, adorned my walls. I committed half of the screenplay, including Robert Frost’s poem that Johnny reads, to memory, and in times of trouble I quietly utter, ‘stay gold, Ponyboy,’ which has been met with quizzical looks.
This gem of a book I’ve been saving, wanting to offer it to my own flesh and blood at just the right moment. Several times I held it in my trembling hands in the library, only to kiss it and replace it on the shelf. It’s not time, said a voice in my head, similar to Darth Vader’s.
Then, goddammit, the school system stole my thunder, and my daughter brought it home for required reading – required reading being the kiss of death for any novel. (Note that the school telling you to read a novel and your own mother telling you to read a novel are radically different.) It took me years to come around to Charles Dickens after being force fed Great Expectations, so I can relate.
But surely, reading a book with your mother hanging over your shoulder, you know, just in case you had any questions about the context, or a need to expand and discuss on the themes presented, would only help someone enjoy it more. There is nothing worse than ambiguity, after all. I made myself available.
So, I asked her once or twenty times, what do you think? She looked at me with one of those looks. I backed off, but noted her progress, and when she neared the end I
begged suggested we read it together. Savour the moment. Surely, this would be her ‘aha’ moment.
We snuggled in bed with the book between us. I bawled openly. She looked at me with a new strangeness. Through my tears I tried to bestow the magic that the book itself failed to reveal. S.E. Hinton couldn’t make her love it, but surely I could.
Yeah, that didn’t work.
It’s a hard lesson for me to learn, but I’m taking ownership. Thou shalt not expect my children to love what I loved as a child, ever again. I do, however, have my very own copies of Jane Eyre and The Catcher in the Rye, underlined in all the poignant places, should she ever want to take them for a spin. #HopeSpringsEternal
Before I look forward, I need to do a shoulder check.
Life as a parent means primarily a life of never ending errands, punctuated by making meals and driving to after school activities, so I like to look back to prove to myself my life isn’t one long grocery list. There are other things that move me forward as a human being; a growing and learning and therefore interesting human being – it’s just hard to remember them. Although my life revolves, irrevocably, around my children, I still want to have a little orbit of my own. A part that is separate from my mothering role, so that when they fly the coop I won’t streak out of the Milky Way altogether.
Normally, when I reflect on a year, I figure out what ages and grades my children were in, and go from there. So 2009 was the year of grades 5, 3 and kindergarten. From there I recall the teachers, who largely made up my social circle that year, and then recall the activities they were involved with, the coaches of whom completed my social circle, and so on.
Exciting stuff. I will inevitably do this with 2012. But of course, there was more to my year than how much homework my children did or didn’t have. Fantastic moments that were sandwiched in between orthodontic appointments and marinating pork tenderloin. Some of them involved amazing friends and family members, while others were found in quieter times within the pages of a book or in the stillness of the forest. It’s not an exhaustive list, but here are a few highlights of my 2012:
- It was a year of real estate: I didn’t move mountains, but I moved our family to a new neighborhood. A simple sentence that explains six months of headaches. Not so much a highlight as much as an achievement, but let’s not quibble over details.
- I found wisdom, epiphanies, and triumphs in stories – too many books to list, but The Dovekeepers, When God Was a Rabbit, The History of Love, and Cloudstreet were a few of my favorite reads.
- The wise powers at Lululemon advise me to do something everyday that scares you. I did one thing in 2012: I sent my rough draft of my novel to an editor. It took 364 days to work up to it, in my defense.
- What’s a year without a soundtrack? If using the stereo of my youth, I’d have worn out the needle playing Bon Iver, Hey Rosetta, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and Kathleen Edwards over and over again, but luckily the digital versions are showing no signs of wear. The concert of the year easily goes to The Lumineers, who lit up the Vogue theater like no band I’ve seen.
- I started swimming with a masters group. In my first week I swam more lengths of the pool than I had my entire life. And I’m old, so you do the math.
- We vacationed in beautiful paradises, both near and far, but 2012 will go down as the year that I finally went to the city that Frank Sinatra crooned about. The one that is the setting for so many movies, books, and reality television shows that I felt like I knew it like the freckles on my daughters nose. I had to resist the urge to tell my cabbie to take Atlantic Avenue rather than the Long Island Expressway to get to JFK. It was weird.
There. It’s recorded for posterity – moments of magic amongst the mundane – these assorted flickers of joy help to distinguish my 2012 from the thousands of carrots I’ve peeled. They may pale in comparison to watching my children grow into astonishingly astute beings, but these moments, purely mine, help me to appreciate my little shooting stars even more.
I’ve been explaining monsters out of our house for years. To emphasize they’re not there, I get a flashlight and shine it underneath their beds, and always, always, close their closet doors. Tight. After the monsters come the questions about robbers and murderers. How, they ask, do we know we will be safe? Oh babe, we live in a VERY safe community, we have an alarm system, and I wake up when a pin drops.
Don’t worry; you’re safe. It’s my job to keep you safe. Sleep tight.
When I heard the breaking news about a gunman in Connecticut in an elementary school, I did what most people did. I turned off the news, and have been careful not to listen to it since in the company of my children.
Because some monsters can’t be explained, and some crimes are so heinous they can’t be considered.
I know I can’t shelter them forever, someday they will learn about this unfathomable tragedy, but every day that goes by that they are naive to these monsters is another day of innocence, another day of childhood the way it should be, wherein I just need to explain the monsters underneath the bed, and not the ones that walk into elementary schools with semi-automatic weapons.
Meanwhile, I’m piecing together my response for the day they hear of this tragedy, the response that is supposed to alleviate both their fears and mine. The one wherein I explain our country’s laws against handguns, and the resulting lower murder rates, and the distance we are from Connecticut, and so on. The response where I emphasize that this will never happen to them.
Or so I hope.
Because of course it could.
So as I sat in my daughter’s Christmas concert yesterday, the one where she dressed up as a penguin who encounters Santa Clause after his sleigh has crash landed, the only thing I could think about was how lucky I was. The only thing she worried about before going to sleep the previous night was forgetting her lines.
Another day of innocence.
I have three children who happen to be girls.
This brings about the usual quips and remarks as we roll through life. “Your poor husband is outnumbered!” they say, “Must make for great hand-me-downs,” or “Oh, those teenage years will be interesting. Not!” Then occasionally a man – always a man, frequently with white hair and a thin voice – will point out that my husband didn’t get his boy.
Like talking about the weather, these responses are standard fodder, something to say when you have nothing else to say.
It’s required information, the sex of your children, just like the age of your children, and almost immediately follows the number of children you have. It’s part of the fabric of our lives, the questions we endure after announcing our name. It tells something about us, enables strangers to form a picture in their minds of what our lives must be like.
But of course, it tells nothing about us.
While pregnant with my third, with two very obvious girls in toe, I fielded questions fast and furious about the sex of my unborn child. Oh how those people hoped I would have a boy, almost as furtively as I wanted a girl. I have nothing against boys, in fact I love them; I love the different perspectives they bring to situations, whether it is one of calm rationale, or to infuse a situation with energy. Thank god for boys and men. Yet I felt totally ambivalent about the sex of my first child – a baby was a baby, health was my only concern. Once I had my healthy baby, a girl, it seemed easier to have another. And then another. I was completely happy with the score in our family, girls 4, boy 1.
Come on, fine for you, but what about your husband? People scoffed. Once, at a family gathering, I was chastised for not hoping for a boy. They thought it was selfish of me to not want a boy, for my husband’s sake. I found this hilarious, since it was my husband’s prerogative to wish for a boy if he so chose, and what difference did it make in the end? They were entitled to their perspective, but I didn’t like them imposing their thoughts on me. (I may have mentioned this to them.) I know there are people out there who feel your life is not complete unless you have the experience of raising both a boy and a girl, but I’m not one of them.
My children may share the same gender, but otherwise are as different as Barbie and Skipper. In fact, they are more like the children of Phil and Claire on Modern Family, three people thrust together under the same roof with vastly different personalities, entirely separate strengths and weaknesses, who bear little resemblance to each other.
My kids are now 8, 11 and 13. One likes pink, the other anything but pink, and my youngest prefers black, so they have carved out a need for individual wardrobes, laying to rest the hope of hand-me-downs. My oldest has a passion for fashion, my middle a passion for sports, my youngest a passion for debating. Yes, they are all gifted in their passions, which means we spend a lot of time spread out, trying to keep everyone happy, whilst arguing.
Still, I field the questions everyday about the genetic makeup of my children, and endure those occasional clucking sounds when they hear the score. To keep things interesting, I now reply, I have three children, three individuals, who happen to be girls. I think that paints a more accurate picture.
My daughter started high school this September, and we are floundering, groping for a life preserver in harrowing seas, searching for something to hang on to before the next wave pulls us under. Not her, my daughter – oh no, she is having the time of her life – but we, as in my husband and I, and my comrades, grade eight moms with whom I drink wine.
They make it look so easy on Glee, the parents don’t even have a role to play. Which is exactly the point. I wasn’t quite ready to not play a part.
We were excited to start high school, and this time I mean both my daughter and I. Eight years in the same school, ten if you count preschool, and we were ready for a change. Change is good, keeps you young, invigorates your mind, restores sanity ( so I’m hoping). Even though change meant leaving her idyllic and inspiring elementary school, we squared our shoulders and bought a new, sturdier backpack for those heavy textbooks she would be hauling back and forth, and showed up for the first day wearing new, albeit ripped, jeans and a slightly nervous smile.
It turned out to be as shiny as the apple she refused to eat, having discovered pizza bagels in the cafeteria. High school was all that and more: locating her classes and navigating between campuses was challenging and interesting, bigger classes and a much larger school meant more friends, more boys, more teams, more clubs, more everything. All good, all exciting, two thumbs up, four if you count mine. (I personally had a little trouble finding her classes for parent teacher night, so let’s downgrade that to three, but why am I even in the picture?) My daughter was loving high school, is loving high school.
The problem, however, is she outgrew her knee-highs and grew into a social life overnight, while I simply rolled over in my sleep.
In the good old days, like two months ago, she did what we did on the weekend. If that meant trooping to her sister’s soccer game and then visiting friends for dinner, we did it together. But not now. Now there are football games to watch and movies to go to and mass sleepovers to attend and dances and the all-worrisome parties. Our measly social life is in peril, our babysitter is perennially busy. That is sad, seeing as we have only recently rekindled our dormant extracurricular lives; but what is even worse is this feeling that our cozy little bubble, the one that was all-knowing, all-hearing, all-seeing, due to my ability to hover over my daughter and discuss with other parents the innermost thoughts of our children (and occasionally break into her computer when there were discrepancies), this bubble has been burst open to reveal one single bold question mark.
I knew that starting high school would be the beginning of new independence for her, even went so far as to wish for it; I just didn’t expect it to hit so quickly.
So now we are scrambling to find and institute new boundaries. Huddling with other parents to compare notes and gather whatever information we can. Enrolling in social media lectures to help with this affront. I book her weeks in advance for babysitting, and ignore her inevitable eye roll.
And now we hope. Hope that all of those lessons we droned into her made some tiny impact, and that the choices she will make – without us hovering – will be good ones.
I found this in Ella’s room. To be more precise, in her journal; but don’t rat me out. It’s such a sweet window into her head I could not resist.
I’m striving for perspective: it’s an elementary school graduation. But still, it’s a milestone. And apparently, it warrants manicures and hairdo’s, and a dress ordered months in advance. If you are thinking that is way over the top, I share your sentiment. When I graduated from elementary school, I spent hours scraping gum off of the bottom of my desk on the last day, and then high-tailed it out of there with scarcely a backwards glance. But the times they are a changing.
Tomorrow, my daughter is graduating from grade seven, and in the fall will start high school. She asked me yesterday if I was going to cry. I hadn’t thought of that, and made a mental note to stuff a few Kleenex into my bag alongside my camera, my lip-chap and stockpile of granola bars.
Truthfully, I haven’t given this graduation much attention. It is hitting us at a busy time, in the middle of moving. By that, I mean I’m weighed down by the boxes I have yet to pack. But that is fairly typical; if it’s not one thing, it’s another. On her first day of kindergarten I was in the hospital, having given birth to her youngest sister the day before.
So it’s a vaguely familiar feeling, this milestone coming at a slightly inconvenient time. And now, on the verge of the pomp and ceremony of tomorrow, and new tomorrows, I am wrestling with my feelings, which are two-parts joyful, one part excited, and one part trepidatious.
Of course, I’m proud. She is an enthusiastic student with a penchant for fun and fashion. She speaks her mind and has a head for reason when all about her (in particular, yours truly) are losing theirs. She’s solid, independent and kind, mostly. She is growing as fast mentally as she is physically; we are eye-level now, but not for long. I more than love her: I like her.
She was my test-case baby; as my oldest child, I cut my parenting teeth on her. My expectations were sky-high in her early years, and it’s taken a while for them to come down to earth. My other two have reaped the benefit of my more relaxed and realistic parenting approach. But Grace had to weather the storm, not that it’s over. Even now, as the first to go to high school, I will falter and flail alongside her before I get my footing. The next time around it won’t feel so precarious. Such is the state of her existence. I’m sure it has shaped her, somehow.
And yet, despite my own parental shortcomings, I have always had utter and complete confidence in her, perhaps too much at times. Still, with high school approaching, and the terrible rumours that accompany high school life, I’m mostly confident she will make wise decisions, but a tiny part terrified that she will be trapped by the pitfalls that will confront her.
Like a mother bird, nudging her baby out of the nest, I’m holding my breath, hoping that through all of the lectures and diatribes I’ve imparted, somewhere in there is a manual on how to fly.
Tomorrow, our children will graduate in a gymnasium shrouded in Moroccan splendor, thanks to months of preparation from dedicated mothers who want this day to stand apart from the rest of their elementary school days. In the midst of busy lives, we are taking a day to celebrate. To account for their achievements. To wish them the very best of luck from the every fiber of our beings that they will continue on their skyward flight pattern, up and away.
Fly, baby, fly.
I am drowning in hoodies. Floating amongst art projects. Suffocating under Playmobile. Awash amongst chargers. In the war of Stuff versus Me, Stuff is winning, hands down. My white flag is flying outside of my door, if anyone can see past the planters, bicycles and soccer nets that are obscuring it.
So it makes little sense (or else all the sense in the world) that because we are stuffed, from attic to crawlspace to disorganized garage, with Stuff, that we are downsizing. In one short month, we are moving to a house with roughly half the square footage of our current abode. I’m worried that instead of hiding the chaos in cupboards and closets and underneath beds, as is now the case, I will be tripping over it while I make dinner.
In typical fashion, instead of taking it in stride I am panicking.
Not on the outside. No, I’m all I love getting rid of all of this junk! I’m de-cluttering! I feel so great – so much lighter! So free – you should try it! Shoving downsizing down every available throat I see, so that everyone might share my pain. It’s all great until someone loses an eye that they needed, or a hula-hoop. What then, pray tell? This is the sound of my interior war I wage.
Shakespeare had it all wrong. To toss, or not to toss, that is the real question.
Some answers are easier than others. Any clothing, whether remotely stained or in need of mending or repair, out of style, or too tight in the bum? Gone to Salvation Army. Bins filled with Barbies and Little Ponies that are gathering dust? Banished to our garage sale. Ikea shelving that I never got around to installing? Again, easy garage sale material. Step stools, the pink Hungarian platter from my husband’s great aunt, side tables with wobbly legs, Pilates DVD’s that seemed like a good idea at the time, learn to read books: gone, gone, gone.
But then there is the memorabilia. The box full of essays I sweated over in university that now read like Greek to me: I could peruse these one rainy day and learn about Thomas Hobbes all over again, it would be like a re-education. A meeting of my twenty-year old mind. Toss, or hold on to for that rainy day in my future? Baby clothes and dresses too cute for words, surely my kids will want these when they are thirty, so what’s twenty more years of packing them around? The plethora of vases that look divine with the right arrangement, which never seem to materialize, but one day might. The snow globes and trinket boxes from travels, the doilies from great-grandmothers who have passed, the mismatched coffee mugs that hold the perfect amount of coffee. This is the stuff over which I agonize. And unfortunately, it constitutes half of our belongings.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go and the Stuff You’ll Accumulate Along the Way. What would Dr. Seuss do?
How do you determine whether to toss or not to toss? Someone, make all of these decisions for me!