Simple Gifts

The older I become, the more clearly I see my Mom’s fingerprint on every area of my life.  From the profound (my perception of God), to the trivial, (how I make chocolate cake), her influence is undeniable.  In celebration of this Mother’s Day, I’m honoring Mom by recognizing just a smattering of the lasting gifts she’s given to me.  While a few of these treasures fall closer to the trivial end of the spectrum, they all have added significantly to the quality of my life and given me countless moments of pleasure.

1. Appreciation for a fine pair of shoes.  When I was a little girl, I spent hours in Mom’s closet, trying on her shoes.  My favorites were the heels – the chunky black platforms, the tan strappy sandals, the pumps.  The higher the better.  I could not wait to have shoes of my own like that.  I remember the first pair of frivolous, girly shoes Mom bought for me.  They were a blue, denim-like fabric with a small heel, ribbon edging, and an ankle strap.  They hurt my feet (a fact unfortunately associated with many a pair of pretty shoes) but I loved them anyway.  As I grew older, I came to understand that no matter what my body looked like or how I felt about it, great shoes always looked fabulous and boosted my confidence.  To this day, when I shop with my Mom and my sister, we spend inordinate amounts of time looking at shoes.

Hubby would argue that this particular gift was not necessarily nurtured by my Mom but rather bestowed on me through genetic code.  Considering that most of the women in my Mother’s family feel the same way about shoes, his opinion could contain a large amount of truth.  Regardless of the method of shoe love transference, I embrace it wholeheartedly.  Cute, classic, sexy – it really doesn’t matter.  Shoes definitely add to the quality of my life and I give all the credit to my Mom.

2. Laughter and silliness.  When  I asked my youngest son, Ace, to describe Nana (my Mom), he said, “She likes to laugh.”  His insight made me smile.  Mom has a knack for seeing the hilarity in the everyday experience and her laughter is contagious.  Now that she has grandchildren her sources of entertainment are bottomless.  She laughs at herself as quickly as she laughs at situations she’s observed and it has lightened life up for all of us.  There is always laughter present when we all get together and Mom is often at the heart of it.  Accompanying the laughter is a sense of delightful silliness.  Reciting “The Jabberwocky” to us, inventing crazy games that required a hip-swiveling, finger-circling dance to advance through the bases, and making awesome faces are just a few of the ways her silliness shone through in my childhood.

There is laughter and silliness in my own parenting style, thanks to my Mom.  I first became aware of it the day I turned “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” into a head banging hard rock ballad and a tennis racket into a screaming electric guitar, to the initial shock and subsequent delight of my three munchkins.  While I lay on the floor laughing with my kids after the impromptu concert, I suddenly realized that it was just the type of thing Mom would have done.  It’s safe to say that enjoying a good belly laugh and indulging in silliness won’t significantly impact my life or the lives of those around me, but it sure is fun.

3. A love of reading.  I don’t remember Mom reading to me when I was young, but I’m sure she must have.  What I do remember is a metal bookcase full of books in my bedroom and regular trips to the library.  I also remember Mom reading her own books – in the red recliner in the living room, on a blanket at the pool while we swam until we were shriveled prunes, and at the stove while she prepared supper.  For some reason, Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel, and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough come to my mind as the types of books she devoured while I was growing up.

My own love for the written word is rooted in Mom’s example.  I’m not as voracious a reader as she is because self-control is an issue for me (as I’ve already discussed here) but I am as enthusiastic.  Our tastes tend to run along similar veins, too.  When Mom recommends a book, I usually read it because I know it will be good.  Some of her recent suggestions have included The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Shadow of the Wind, An Altar in the World, and The Night Circus.  I’ve enjoyed them all as my book reviews will testify.  Mom’s love for reading has enhanced my own life in numerous ways from the purely pleasurable to the philosophical and cerebral.  Reading is a vital part of my life and Mom turned me on to it.

4. Wanderlust.  I love to travel.  I long to travel.  This need I have to see the world has been nurtured by Mom (and Dad) from the time I was very young.  Even though we didn’t have much money when I was growing up, my parents took my sister, brother, and me on many traveling adventures.  Our trips usually involved a tent and a state park but sometimes our accommodations took the form of an old beach house.  I loved being outside and seeing new places.  In seventh grade, at the ripe old age of 13, my parents encouraged me to go to New Mexico with my youth group to work at a Navajo Mission.  For three weeks, I traveled around the United States in a sky blue school bus with a rainbow stripe with other teenagers and a few advisors, seeing sights and experiencing humanity in a way that blew my mind.  A few years later, when I asked to spend two weeks in Arizona with a biology teacher and a group of kids from school, my parents didn’t hesitate.  I hiked the Havasu trail in the Grand Canyon, slept in the desert, and forged my way to the top of Mount Humphrey.  At a time in my life when I was really struggling with depression and low self-esteem, it was one of the best gifts they could have given me.  Mom and Dad truly gave me wings to explore the world just when I needed them the most.

My parents are still traveling – sometimes with all of us, and occasionally with just their grandchildren.  A few years ago, they took my daughter and niece on a road trip to Yellowstone National Park.  They’re hoping to take my sons to the Grand Canyon in the near future.  True to form, Mom is not available for Mother’s Day this year because she and my Dad are – you guessed it – traveling.  They are in the Outer Banks, near Cape Hatteras, for a week of utter relaxation.  For this Mother’s Day, in particular, I wouldn’t want her to be anywhere else.

As a mom myself, I’m finding that I’m in the position to nurture wanderlust in my children and give them wings of their own.  This summer, my daughter will be traveling to eastern Europe with American Music Abroad, playing her flute in an orchestra of teenagers for people in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.  One of the reasons I’m willing to let her go into such a faraway unknown is because my parents allowed me the same types of opportunities when I was her age.  Even though it is scary for me,  I want her to see the world and form a life perspective that is broader than her own existence here in Lancaster County.  I’ve come to understand that travel is a gift that keeps giving long after the actual experience is over.

This post was meant to be a light-hearted celebration of some fun ways Mom has impacted my life.  While I was writing it, though, I recognized that many of the gifts Mom has given me are the same gifts that her mother shared with her.  In honoring my Mom, I’m really highlighting a heritage of curiosity, joie de vivre, and love that has been passed down through the generations of my Mom’s family.  I am so very glad that I’m the recipient of these blessings and I only hope that I can adequately transfer these gifts to my own kids (except for the shoe love which only Lovey truly appreciates).  Judging by the amount of laughter that takes place around our dinner table, the number of books that are consumed, and the list of places my kids want to visit, I think the heritage is still going strong.  Thanks Mom, for even the little gifts that make my life worthwhile.

Photo taken on a family trip to Walt Disney World a few years ago; Mouse ears courtesy of my daughter

Panic Attack

This morning I took my daughter and her friend to the high school to practice finding their way around campus before school starts.  (We missed ninth grade orientation because we felt that relaxing on the beach in the Outer Banks was far more important.)  Lovey is attending my alma mater so I smugly thought I might be able to help the girls find their way around.  Ha!  The campus is enormous and looks nothing like the high school I attended almost twenty-five years ago.  It has been remodeled and expanded into a cumbersome beast.  I laughed out loud when I first heard that students had ten minutes to get from class to class.  The funniness quickly evaporated when we started working through the girls’ schedules.  They walk from one end of campus to the other about three times a day.  We timed the longest distance and it took seven minutes!  I’m almost positive we walked ten miles during the two practice runs we performed.  The dripping sweat and shortness of breath were proof, I swear.

Something unexpected happened to me during our scavenger hunt.  I had a sudden heart squeezing, breath stealing revelation that my daughter, my baby girl, was headed to HIGH SCHOOL in just a few short days.  The next four years flashed quickly before my eyes.  Soon, she’ll be fifteen, which, of course,  is followed by sixteen.  Next, she’ll be driving and working part-time and picking out a college.  Just a blink after that will be graduation and then she’ll be heading into the great wide open, leaving her father and me in the dust.  I almost had a panic attack right there in front of room 304, where Lovey will spend a chunk of time every day learning about American history and growing up without my knowledge or permission.

This realization is just the latest in a series that I have been struggling to make sense of.  It started about a month ago when I took my middle son, Buddy(who is twelve), to a friend’s house for the afternoon.  I hadn’t seen this friend since the end of school.  When Buddy knocked on the door, a good-looking young man answered.  And then I realized this young man was Buddy’s friend!  In the span of two months the kid had grown several inches, dyed his hair blonde, and sprouted facial hair.  In shock, I reflexively looked at Buddy – who was even taller and had broader shoulders and a deeper voice!!  When did that happen?  How was it that my son was turning into a man before my very eyes and I couldn’t see it?  The drive home was a blur of disbelief and confusion.

Then, in August, my youngest son turned ten.  He has been around for an entire decade and is now an official tweener.  This is my true baby – my youngest.  The truth has been difficult to digest.  I no longer have any little kids.  Just big ones.  And these big kids seem to need me less and less.  Lately, I’ve had this incredible desire to freeze time.  I want everyone to stop growing and changing for a bit so I can catch my breath.  I want to tell my kids to slow down with the growing up process because I’m not ready to let go.  Unfortunately, it’s out of their hands – and mine.

Not being needed by my kids is scary.  And letting go of the people I’ve poured so much of my life into is also very unsettling.  In saner moments, when I’m not being tackled by reality, I  recognize that not being needed and letting go are the ultimate goals of parenting.  I want to raise children who are capable, independent, and self-sufficient.  Doing my job well as a Mom means eventually putting myself out of business.  As hard as that is to swallow at this moment, I know it is the truth.  I guess I just wasn’t prepared for how quickly the time would fly by and how soon I would be faced with the letting go process.

I somehow manged to stave off a full-blown meltdown this morning.  Perhaps I was successful because after the first scary realization, two other far more pleasant realizations followed.  Just because my daughter was becoming a young woman doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need me.  She just needs me in a different way.  Instead of a caretaker, she needs me to be her safety net as she explores the big bad world and her place in it.  I will be moving from hands-on parenting to behind the scenes support and guidance.  With Lovey, that shift has been going on for a while now – whether I recognize it or not.  Occasionally, she shows us glimpses of her adult self and I’m always incredibly amazed and proud at what I see.

I can feel it starting with Buddy, too.  I dropped him off for the first night of seventh and eighth grade football practice.  Neither one of us really knew what to expect and I could tell he was nervous.  At first, he asked me to stay.  I even offered to check in with the coach for him.  When we got to the school, he changed his mind and told me he’d be fine and that I should go home.  It was very hard for me to watch him walk into the unknown, but he was right.  He needed to do it himself.  The shift was starting.  (Thank goodness I get a reprieve with Ace.  He may be a decade old but he still needs me.)

The second nugget of truth I gleaned from this experience is that time is stealthy and passes by when we aren’t looking.  I need to be very deliberate in spending time with my kids because I won’t have them to myself forever.  When Lovey, Buddy, and Ace were small I felt like changing diapers, wiping faces, and scrubbing high chairs would be my fate for eternity.  It wasn’t.  It passed in the blink of an eye.  I don’t want to miss out on what is going on with my children right now because I’m too busy or preoccupied.  This season won’t last forever either.  Time is precious when it comes to growing kids and I needed the reminder that I don’t want to miss one single moment of it.

Fun Friday (Part 1)

Summer vacation has officially begun in our corner of the woods.  This means that Fun Fridays are back in full swing as well.  What is a Fun Friday?  It’s a boredom buster.  An end of the week celebration.  An educational experience wrapped up as playtime.  A reward for good behavior.  It’s always fun.  And it usually happens on Friday.  I honestly forget how this tradition started several years ago, but I think it might have had something to do with aimless, bickering kids and the words “I’m bored”.  Every Friday during summer break we (my three kids, my niece, and I) have a little adventure.  Sometimes these adventures are free – a picnic at Long’s Park and playing at the Castle playground, a hike at Kelly’s Run, a homemade Wipeout course in the backyard, Chocolate World.  Other times we spend some money – Indian Echo Caverns, Wheatland (President Buchanan’s home), the Amish Farm and Home.  Sometimes we invite others to join us.  Sometimes not.  Fun Fridays happen only if chores are done, behavior is acceptable, and instruments are practiced.

When I first came up with this idea, it was a tool to maintain my sanity during those summer months of endless togetherness.  I never thought it would become such an anticipated and beloved tradition.  We start talking about Fun Friday ideas in April and everyone has input.  This is such a favorite that my niece, who is old enough to stay home by herself, still wants to come over so she can participate in Fun Fridays with us.

Tomorrow is Friday.  The first Fun Friday of the summer.  And because we have a big weekend planned, this Fun Friday is pretty mellow.  We’ll be headed to the Fractured Prune for some custom doughnuts for breakfast and then off to the library to stock up on reading materials for the next two weeks.  The kids were already on the Fractured Prune’s website tonight designing the doughnuts they are going to eat tomorrow.  Their enthusiasm is contagious.

Fun Friday Ideas

The Science Factory

The Tabernacle

Valley Forge

Rockford Plantation

Longwood Gardens

A movie(s) at Kendig Square

A day trip to the beach

Riding bikes on the Elizabethtown/Mt. Gretna bike path

Miniature golf


Renting a boat at Muddy Run

I think I’m looking forward to Fun Fridays as much as the kids this summer!

Maternal Metamorphosis

The local Sunday paper published an article for Mother’s Day called “The Things We Do For Love”, by Suzanne Cassidy.  Usually, on Mother’s Day, we focus on what our mothers mean to us or on the very important roles mothers play in the lives of their children.  Ms. Cassidy approaches motherhood from an entirely different and thought-provoking perspective.  Her article focuses on the often surprising ways that motherhood changes who we are as women.  She makes this point by interviewing several women who feel that motherhood has taken them in directions they never would have gone on their own.  Of course, I immediately started thinking about my own life as a mom.  Have my children really shaped and molded me?  After just the slightest bit of consideration, I have to answer with a resounding “Yes!”  Now, I could get into the heavy stuff like how I have developed more patience and replaced selfishness with self-sacrifice.  In reality, I think I expected those things to happen when I became a mom.  In Ms. Cassidy’s article, the focus is on those unexpected experiences and moments that often cause women to feel the most like mothers.  This article wasn’t focusing on heavy-duty stuff.  And neither am I.  I am just talking about things I have done for the love of my children that I am pretty sure I couldn’t or wouldn’t have done for any other reason on this earth.

How My Kids Have Changed Me

1.  I can be an early bird.  My husband and I are night owls.  Anyone who knows us even casually can attest to that fact.  How an early bird came from our genes is a mystery, but she did.  Our daughter, Lovey (who is also our oldest) awoke at the crack of dawn for years.  Every morning, when I heard her gurgly little voice on the monitor, I would drag myself out of bed and start our day.  Getting up at 5:30 in the morning went against every fiber in my being.  But I did it, because I loved her.  When our boys each came along, they decided they liked to get up early, too.  Our middle son, Buddy, was notorious for waking up to see the garbage truck or the leaf vacuum truck in the early morning hours.  I never truly converted to being a morning person.  I still live to stay up late and sleep in.  But my kids taught me that I was capable of getting up really early and surviving.

2.  I can sing.  Really, I can’t.  At all.  But my kids sure thought I could.  And they wanted me to sing every night at bedtime.  I confess that I did imagine myself singing lullabies to my babies before I became a parent.  And that’s how the whole singing at bedtime thing got started.  But we quickly graduated from lullabies to requests for songs like the Veggie Tales theme song, Sleeping Beauty’s “Once Upon a Dream”, “Jesus Loves Me”,  “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “B-I-N-G-O”, and “Away in a Manger”. I think the  Bob the Builder theme song might have been in there, too.  Ace, our youngest son, had a stuffed dog named Digby that went everywhere with him.  I would change the words  to B-I-N-G-O and spell D-I-G-B-Y for him and he loved it.  The bedtime singing stopped awhile ago – I think when my kids realized just how bad my voice really was.  But I’m glad I let go of my inhibitions.  I would have missed out on some great bonding times serenading sleepy-eyed munchkins to dreamland.

3.  I am a walking encyclopedia of all things mechanical.  Construction vehicles, farm machinery, trains – you name it.  With two small boys, I spent tons of time reading books and watching movies about trucks, tractors, and airplanes.  I know what a grapple skidder is.  And a Shinkansen.  And  a harvester.  Do I care one bit?  NO.  But my boys did.  Driving  in the Pathfinder routinely became a scavenger hunt for big equipment.  I knew I had been completely brainwashed when I excitedly pointed out a huge crane on the bed of a tractor trailer and then realized no one was in the truck but me.

4.  I became a seamstress.  When I was younger, my mom sewed clothing for us all the time.  She taught me a few basics.  And I took Home Ec in 8th grade and sewed the mandatory skirt.  As an adult, I have sewn a few curtains, shades and table covers.  That is the extent of my skill with a sewing machine, needle, and thread.  Why, then, have I attempted to make some of the most difficult Halloween costumes known to man???  I have no explanation except that my daughter asked me to.  For years, I spent hours the few days before Halloween fashioning princesses dresses, Robin Hood cloaks, and puppy costumes.  I cursed, shunned sleep, and turned grey in the process.  The end products wouldn’t win any fair prizes.  I’m not even sure I enjoyed it.  But n the end, the kids had quality costumes not just for Halloween but for dress-up all year round.  Our dress-up box became a favorite of nieces, nephews, and friends for years.  I haven’t done much sewing lately.  The kids like putting their own costumes together now and I encourage that kind of creativity.  I’m happy to give the sewing machine a rest.  Even so, now I know I could sew if it ever became a necessity.

5.  I am an expert baker – especially of cookies.  I like to bake. I liked it before I had any children.  Having kids just pushed me into a whole different level of baking.  I can’t begin to count how many dozens of cookies I’ve baked for teachers’ Christmas gifts, school parties, and peer helper meetings.  And yes, just recently I was that mom who was baking cookies at midnight for her daughter’s tutoring party at school.  I’ve always loved baking.  Now, thanks to my kids, I can say I’m pretty good at it.

Besides the baking, most of the things I’ve mentioned took place when my kids were younger.  Now that they’re older, they are shaping me in different ways.  For instance, Ace loves history.  Every vacation we take must involve some kind of historical component.  We’ve been to Fort Niagara and Fort McHenry and many places in Philadelphia.  We’ve toured the Constellation and the Torsk in Baltimore.  Recently, we spent some time in Pittsburgh with Fort Pitt a proposed part of the agenda.  Let me just say that Fort Pitt is a bugger to find.  The signs are misleading, the GPS was useless, and if Hubby and I were alone we would have given up.  However, we persevered and found a very interesting museum.  I gained insight into the complicated politics between England, France, and the Native Americans and the vital role Fort Pitt played in America’s history.  All this because a nine-year old boy that I love likes history.

Buddy isn’t into garbage trucks anymore.  But he is very interested in playing the electric guitar and thinking about rock and roll.  Now, I love rock and roll.  It’s my guilty pleasure.  But Buddy has pushed me to be a a veritable storehouse of rock and roll facts.  He is always asking me questions.  Who are my top five choices for best guitar player of all time?  What is my favorite song?  Why was Blondie considered punk rock (after listening to”The Tide Is High”)?  Who in their right mind would think that George Harrison was one of the best guitar players in rock and roll history?  Does Billy Joe Armstrong have a tenor voice?  On and on and on.  We spend a great deal of time on the Internet looking up information.  And I spend a lot of time listening to “Holiday” and “Crazy Train” played on a 100 watt amplifier.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think motherhood would involve Green Day and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  It’s a nice surprise, though.

Lovey never really grew out of the dress-up phase.  Now, instead of Halloween costumes, she dresses up for plays and productions at school.  And she is completely in love with Les Miserables.  She has several editions of the soundtrack, the anniversary CD and the sheet music so she can play it on her flute.  Hubby and I took her to see the show when it came to town.  That is when I fell in love with the music.  Now we listen to the soundtrack when we’re in the car together and I always cry when Fantine sings “I Dreamed a Dream”.  Such a heart-breaking, haunting song.  My daughter is a true romantic.  And she insists on taking me with her on her heart-rending journeys.

Because I am a mom, I’ve dug through public trash cans looking for carelessly tossed retainers (one time I did the tossing).  I’ve rescued  a field mouse from our window well because the kids were worried it would starve to death but were afraid  to touch the little thing themselves.  I’ve cared for two broken arms, survived a pallet expander and two sets of braces, and endured more roller coaster rides than any motion sickness-prone person should have to.  I am a Philadelphia Phillies because my family wore me down.  Some of the best books I’ve read recently have been recommended by my kids.  The list could go on and on.

As a mom, I take the job of teaching, training, encouraging,  and correcting my kids very seriously.  But the truth of the matter is, if I want to be the most effective force on my children and remain an important part of their lives, then I need to bend my life towards them.  The very act of doing this is changing me.  Whether I realize it or not, who my kids are is shaping who I am.  And that is OK with me.

                                                                                                                                      At Fallingwater this spring – per Buddy’s request.