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May 13, 2012

Hug your Mom. Now.

A faithful watcher of CBS's Sunday Morning, Nancy Giles hit the nail on the head this morning when she was talking about Mother's Day and her perception of the holiday each year.
She talked about how Mother's Day is a holiday that glorifies all things motherish -- with beautiful imagery of mothers and their children. Glowing, beautiful, blissful. Everywhere, everyone is celebrating the day and it's joyful. But when you've lost your mother, it's just not the same kind of day. It's a little more somber, a bit less gleaming and you kind of just wish it was over.
I lost my Mom to breast cancer eight years ago in May within days of Mother's Day. Not a Mother's Day, holiday or really any day goes by that I don't think about her -- what if she was still here? What would she say? What would she do? On this show this morning, Giles said something to the effect, "You adjust to life without your Mom, but you never get over it. You just learn to cope." Mother's Day, unfortunately, highlights that sense of loss for me on an annual basis.
I've tried to make the day about me, but it's like a shirt that doesn't quite fit. Yesterday at the Farmers Market, several friends wished me a Happy Mothers Day weekend. I nodded and returned the salutation, but it still sounds foreign to be considered a mother in the sense of the holiday -- like it's more meant for the Mom I had, not that I am.
My Mom was incredible. I knew it growing up and it is only amplified now that she's gone. Creative, funny, sparkling -- that was my Mom. When I think of her in my mind, she's smiling brightly. I no longer thing about the way cancer and chemotherapy ravaged her body and tried to steal her dignity. I've replaced the most horrible nightmarish memories with happier times, with warm memories of childhood and all she did for me. It's unfortunate that with maturity comes the kind of adoration that's more golden and reverent for one's mom -- the kind of adoration this holiday is built on -- and I no longer have a living Mom to adore. I wish I had her to call, to rest my head on her shoulder and share my stories with. I wish she were here for lunches, celebrations, the births of the four grandchildren she never met. I wish she'd gotten to enjoy the latter, more comfortable years of life she worked so hard for, but was deprived of. I wish my Dad still had his best friend. I wish my brother had his confidant. I wish my sister had a mother to call when her kids are sick, when she doesn't know the answers or when she wants to share what funny, adorable people she's raising. All around, it just sucks not having your mother -- particularly when your mother was the center of your family.
There's one thing that stands out to me: if you have a mother alive and breathing, hug her today and every day. Eventually, you may not be able to and that sense of missing is like a vast hole in your being. Periodically, I read about or hear about people having disagreements, spats, arguments, fights -- whatever you want to call it -- with their mothers. She may be bossy, intrusive, overbearing, distant, mediocre, the greatest ever or a big loser, but she's what you've got. She's it. And if it comes to love her or leave her, love her -- even if you feel like she doesn't love you back. Even if she did nothing more than bring you into this world -- she did that, and it was no party!
Extend the olive branch when you need to. Listen to her even if you don't want to hear her. Adore her for who she is, not what you expect her to be. And don't just cherish her on Mother's Day, but everyday.
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May 08, 2012

A new baby: what we forget and what we learn

Editor's note: A nudge from my brother made this a priority...and I can promise more Retrospectives in the weeks ahead, too! :) 

It's been awhile since I wrote a retrospective and with good reason.
Nine months ago, our family welcomed a spunky, mind-all-her-own little girl named Eliza Jayne.
With big kids, you kind of forget the small stuff. Oh, what you forget!
Lack of sleep was a rude, rude awakening -- particularly since our older two children were amazing sleepers. They were the kind of babies who were up all day, but that slept until you woke them up in the morning. I now realize just how lucky we were! Eliza likes to nap frequently and wake occasionally during the night. She seems to wake most frequently when we need our sleep the most...not a great scenario. At my age, it must be taking a toll on me as a friend commented the other day about how tired I looked. Yeah, there are days when I could nap standing up.
With babies, you also forget how chaotic meal time tends to be -- particularly at restaurants. The entire meal seems built around avoiding loud outbursts, worrying about whether you're annoying neighboring diners, worrying whether the eating newbie is making too big of a mess on the floor, worrying whether the eating newbie has enough food/is going to choke, etc., and, of course, a well-orchestrated routine of "I will feed her while your wolf down your meal and then you can feed her while I eat." You kind of forget, then, how much this minimizes enjoyment of the dining out experience. You forget how easy it is to just stay home – a lot of the time.
You forget how easy it becomes with big kids to go shopping or get out of the house in the morning to go to school. Big kids are critical thinkers. They can select items and dress themselves. They can make their own breakfasts and fasten their seat belts. They can engage you in amusing conversations. With a baby along for the ride -- it's no longer possible to "run" into a store or go quickly anywhere. Being a fly by the seat of my pants kind of person, this forces me way outside my comfort zone. I have to be a planner, a schedule-oriented person.
You forget what it was like to have a whole day to yourself, just how much I could accomplish in a day. Laundry, dinner, countless meetings, write, all of it…once accomplished in a few hours now takes me days to do. I remember back to the time when I had time to waste. No more. I now “make hay while the sun shines” – doing all I can between naps, feedings and errands. She’s a good car traveler, so that’s helpful.
I forgot how quickly they change and grow! She has outgrown outfits that seemed giant when we got them and a pile is ever growing of items we’ll soon pass on to other new babies we know. Just last night I was looking at some newborn photographs of her and it surprised me how much bigger she is now and how much older she looks. That wrinkly little face with squinty eyes is now plump and popping with personality. Her toothy grin gets me every time and the once bald head now has wisps of what appears to be wavy sandy blonde hair. Her first six weeks were a challenge as she slept a little and cried a lot. It’s not that we forgot about that – we never experienced a baby like that before. We learned, fortunately, that her colic was tamed considerably by a change in my diet – namely removing lactose. I willingly said goodbye to milk and most dairy products (cheese, fortunately, wasn’t an issue) if it meant less of what we called “cry time” – a dreaded period of time that lasted from about 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. which was punctuated by almost non-stop wailing. It was a rough time for us all, but once we got her tummy issues taken care of, she was a whole new girl.
As much as I forgot about having a baby, I have learned so much more than I failed to remember.
I've learned that while I was on the verge of tears myself in the middle of the night with a screaming colicky newborn, that moment was something to treasure. She's my last baby and while holding her weary little body, bumping with sobs and adjusting in contentedness at having mommy nearby, I realized I'd never have that moment back though I might yearn for it in 20 years. So I breathed it in. I put time on pause. So I'd be tired tomorrow? So maybe I'll miss that morning meeting? So what. That awful, wonderful moment was mine for a season.
I have learned patience to a degree I don't think I really had with my first two children. Perhaps that comes with age. I'm just not in much of a hurry now I guess. I'm content to let her take her own sweet time to do everything. Life is not on a schedule -- that just is not realistic. If she wants or needs to take a four hour nap this afternoon, I will wait happily for her to awake. As I write in my office, she frequently crawls over and pulls herself up, looking at me with awe and expectation. Those moments mean it’s time to put my work on hold and get down on the floor with her to play and to interact.
I have learned that I am a more mellow, prepared parent than I was in my twenties. The kinds of parenting moments that kept me frantic, obsessed and neurotic then just don't phase me now. Most catastrophes can be fixed with kisses, hugs and an ice pack. There is no reason to constantly consult medical guides, accept all advice or freak out about much. (Ok, that’s not entirely true -- now, with the abundance of information on the Internet you can freak out in the privacy of your own home about every rash, bug bite and fever.)
I’ve learned that everything can be done differently than I did it before. This time around, we’re doing cloth diapers and I’m making most of her food. The food I do buy for her is organic and gluten-free. I spend a lot of time reading labels and gathering information to make more informed decisions about every aspect of her care. I was in too much of a rush to do that when the other two were babies – or I was too young, too naïve to care. The decisions I make for her now will undoubtedly affect her health as she grows and it’s important to me to do all I can in that respect. I wish I’d known all the things I know now when my older children were babies.
I’ve learned that everything is new again. Every single new thing she does is met with great enthusiasm – cheerful clapping when she makes a new sound, says a new word or learns something new about her world. Little things are a very big deal, not just for her parents, but her siblings as well.
I never expected my 8- and 11-year-old to be so devoted to their baby sister. I expected the newness would wear off, the excitement of a baby in the house would be replaced shortly with annoyance and I could not have been more wrong. I have learned and witnessed such inspiring, unconditional love and affection that it brings tears to my eyes. Eliza is enamored by her big brother, in particular. He seems passively aware of this, but doesn’t make a big deal of it. Each morning, however, he is among the first to awake and he plucks her from bed to play before school. Her eyes light up when he walks into to the room. She calls him “Bubba” and it was one of the first words she said. He anticipates her needs, changing diapers, changing outfits, feeding her and entertaining her as needed. Watching that relationship grown and blossom is probably the most amazing part about having a baby later in life. Had they been more “contemporaries,” this adoration would not exist and would be more like the usually loving but sometimes contentious, typical sibling relationship that exists between my 8-year-old and 11-year-old. It does make me a bit sad, though, that she will probably never remember her big brother as a little boy. Soon he’ll be a teenager and most of her early remembrance of him, he’ll already be a young man. The up side of that, I suppose, is that she’ll eventually have four adults immediately involved in her life as opposed to her two (her parents). She’ll have four people to ask to take her to the movies or to the park. She’ll have four people wrapped around her little fingers, four people melted by her violet blue eyes.

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