theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the tag “family”

Please Stop Expressing your Condolences that I have a Teenage Daughter.

I met a new neighbor yesterday.  Upon hearing that I have a teenage daughter, she replied, “I’m sorry.”

This happens quite frequently.  Someone asks me how old my children are and when I mention my teenage daughter the response is often, “My condolences,” or “I’m sorry,” or “Can I get you a glass of wine?”

I’m writing this today to ask of you: please stop expressing your condolences that I have a teenage daughter. I’m not the least bit sorry or upset about it.

Yes, she sometimes rolls her eyes or uses “that tone.” Occasionally, when I ask her to help me to unload the dishwasher she replies, “No thanks, I’m good.” My daughter some times does these things, but these things do not define her. Look past the occasional eye rolls, dramatic interludes, and the ear buds that seem to have taken up permanent residence in her ears and you will see that my teenage daughter is not someone who needs apologizing for.  She is, in fact, nothing short of amazing.

Diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in first grade, my now 14-year-old is one of the bravest and strongest people I know.  Every morning, she gets out of bed knowing that at some point during the day she will need to battle an inner demon and she knows there is a chance she won’t win.  Yet, every morning, she gathers her courage, puts on her emotional armor, and goes to school.  Do you remember middle school? Not exactly a nurturing haven of emotional safety nets (even at her tiny private school there is a fair amount of middle school drama and kids who say mean things).  Nevertheless, she persists.

My teenage daughter is fierce.  She is a self-proclaimed feminist and social justice warrior who is forging her own path in the world.  She has relevant and informed opinions about issues impacting our town, our country, and our planet. She will stand up for people if she thinks they are being treated unfairly – even if they are someone my daughter considers to be, in her words, “a butt.”

My teenage daughter is developing a strong sense of self. She has no interest in wearing something because someone else is wearing it and, so far, she thinks peer pressure is “stupid.” She is authentic and real and won’t apologize for being an independent thinker or outspoken young lady.  She is unapologetically her own person and we encourage her to be just that.

My teenage daughter is interesting.  She reads books and asks questions and is curious about the world.  And yes, occasionally, halfway through my answer to a question she has just posed to me she will completely stop listening. She is, after all, still a teenager.  She is still learning.  But I’m an adult and I’m still learning too.  Sometimes, I roll my eyes and use “that tone,” and overreact to a frustrating but inconsequential situation.  Where do you suppose they learn that behavior to begin with?

It seems to me that women already apologize far more than necessary, sometimes, merely for existing.  Do we really need to exacerbate that problem by apologizing for teenage girls even being a thing? Again, I can’t speak for anybody else’s teenage daughter but I suspect that if you look past the eye rolls, and the obnoxious tone of voice and the drama that sometimes accompanies them you will find that there is a lot of complex, beautiful, and amazing stuff going on right under the surface.

So, if I mention that I have a teenage daughter, ask me how she’s doing or what she’s involved with or what her opinion is on a $15 minimum wage (she does actually have an opinion on that) but please, do not apologize.

 

All Things Good

All Things Good

It has been more than fifteen years since my grandmother passed away following a long battle with Alzheimer’s.  While I think of her often, this week, for no particular reason, my Grandma Nat has been on my mind more than usual.

My grandma was not your typical Jewish grandmother.  Unlike many Jewish grandmothers, mine was not known for her culinary abilities.  I have no memories of my Grandma Nat frying latkes in the kitchen or making matzobrei.  I never saw her bake or cook anything, though I did once hear a story that she broke a pot while trying to reheat soup.  The only food I remember my Grandmother preparing for me is tuna salad- which happened to be one of her favorites.

My grandma also differed from other Jewish grandmothers in her love for Christmas.  Each holiday season, my grandmother turned her front room into what could have been a department store window display.  A glittery white felt and cotton carpet was topped with a red cardboard chimney and an inflatable Santa Claus.  Placed carefully around the chimney were everyone’s “Chanukah” presents which we opened together during our annual holiday get together (which was catered, I assume).

My grandmother had four grandchildren: three grandsons, and me, the only granddaughter.  She was proud of all of her grandchildren; of this I am sure, but being the only girl I always felt that we had a special relationship.  This was especially true once I reached middle school and would sometimes spend the weekend with my grandmother at her apartment.  My grandmother was a volunteer in the gift shop at Long Island Jewish Hospital.  Part of what she did was decide which items the gift shop should stock.  During my weekends with Grandma Nat, she would bring me with her to volunteer.  We would go through the catalogs together and she would ask my opinion on items that kids would want to see in the shop.  She would take me to lunch in the hospital cafeteria where we would both eat, what else, tuna fish.

During these weekends, my grandmother taught me how to play various kinds of solitaire (then called it beginners luck when I won the first three hands I played).  We talked about the books I was reading and she took me to “the club” where she introduced me to her friends, let me order sodas on her tab, and I swam in the pool while she sat and kibitzed with the other ladies.  These weekends that I had with my grandmother are some of my best memories of her.

By the time we celebrated her 80th birthday in 1990 Grandma Nat was already showing signs of Alzheimer’s.  She experienced a slow and steady decline between then and her passing in 1997 but there is one more visit with her that I remember very clearly and will always treasure.  During one of my visits home to NY while away at college, I stopped by my grandmother’s apartment to have lunch with her.  She was still having some lucid moments, but got confused easily and couldn’t always differentiate fantasy from reality.  She required a daily nurse to manage her medications, and to make sure that all of her day to day needs were being met.

Luckily, that particular day she was especially lucid.  She knew who I was and was excited to see me.  We had our traditional lunch of tuna fish on rye and pickles and sat and talked on the couch for a long time.  My grandmother told me that she knew she was nearing the end of her life but that she was not afraid of death.  She was afraid, she said, that after she was gone nobody would remember her.  I did my best to assure her that this was not the case- that her memory would live on through our oddly Christmas like Chanukah celebrations, our book discussions, our card games, and our tuna fish lunches, not to mention the countless family gatherings we shared for Thanksgiving, Passover, Mothers and Father’s Day, and other important family events.  I hope I was able to put her mind at ease that day.  When I left her apartment that day, she left me with the same parting words she always said when we said goodbye, “All things good.”

When I got back to college, my creative writing professor assigned our class to write a poem.  I don’t remember what the specification of the assignment was but this is the poem I wrote:

All Things Good

 

The black door swings open.

She stands smiling

With painted face,

Flowery house dress,

Matching slippers.

“Hello Stranger,” she says and holds me in a maternal embrace.

I hold her frail body to mine

Kiss a soft, wrinkled cheek.

 

In the kitchen we eat

On a table of Formica.

Tuna on rye,

Sliced tomatoes,

Sweet pickles.

“How did you know tuna was my favorite?” she asks.

I smile at her contentment

And help her clear the table.

 

We move to the living room

Sit side by side

Stories from long ago,

Childhood tales,

Sincere declarations.

“I’m not afraid of dying,” she says. “My fear is of being forgotten.”

I take a velvet hand in mine

And promise eternal life.

 

The black door swings open

She stands smiling with painted face,

Flowery house dress,

Matching slippers.

“All things good,” she says.

My hands smell like tuna

As I wipe away salty tears.

I have one other memory of my grandmother.  The very last time I saw her was several weeks before she passed away.  I was a graduate student at that point, living in Michigan and it was harder to get home for visits.  Her condition had deteriorated terribly.  She lay in a hospital bed murmuring, “why, why, why, why” over and over again.  She looked distressed and confused and it was unclear if she knew who was there with her.  My parents and I stood at her bedside and I took her hand in mine.  My mother, in an attempt to engage my grandma said to her, “Natalie, did you know that Meryl has a boyfriend?”  My mother held out a picture of the man who two years later would become my husband.  My grandmother looked at the picture, looked right at me and asked in a feeble voice, “is he Jewish?”  I guess my grandmother was a typical Jewish grandmother after all.

The World According to Rachel, Part 3: Wide Awake

The following is a reprint from a short-lived blog I started when my youngest daughter was about 18 months old.  It is written from what I imagined her point of view would be.  If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, you can check it out at: http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-8W or check my recent posts…

Usually, I am a pretty good sleeper. But one night last week I woke up while it was still dark out and I wasn’t even tired. I was feeling a little lonely, so I decided to call for mommy, because she is my favorite one to play with. I called, “mommy” really loud and drawn out and then I waited. I didn’t hear any footsteps, so I called again, “mommy” as loud as I could. Still nothing. Since I am a stubborn little bugger (this is what mommy calls me sometimes) I decided to keep trying. I stood up in my crib and started shaking the side as hard as I could- RATTLE, RATTLE, RATTLE. I thought this would work for sure because mommy had just read an article about a crib recall where the sliding crib wall could separate from the crib and smush the innocent little baby, but mommy STILL didn’t come. Talk about stubborn. Then I had a great idea, so I started yelling, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck!!” I don’t know if mommy believed me, but right after that I heard footsteps and I knew that she was on her way.

Unfortunately, when mommy came into the room, she did not look happy to see me. She said in a very soft but serious voice- “Rachel, it is 3:30 in the morning.”

Oh good, I thought. It is morning!!

Mommy kept talking, “It is not play time, it is sleep time. I will sit with you in your chair and help you fall back to sleep, but we are NOT going into the living room and we are NOT playing. Got it?”

Mommy sounded sort of grouchy, so I just said, “got it, mommy.” Then she picked me up out of my crib and put me on her lap in the rocking chair. She still looked grouchy and I wanted her to smile, so after we had rocked for a minute or two I looked up at mommy and said, “nice to meet you, mommy!” And it worked! Mommy smiled and said, “nice to meet you too Rachel, now go to sleep.”

Mommy started singing to me all my bed time songs, such as: Never Surrender, Faithfully, and Wind Beneath My Wings. Just as I started to doze off, that dumb dog who lives next door started barking. At least, I think his name is “that dumb dog.” That’s what my daddy usually calls him. But I think he must have a few different names because daddy also calls him “that little yappy dog,” “the furry rat,” and some other names that a two year old is not supposed to repeat. So, I opened my eyes and said, “woof-woof” and started to laugh.

This time, mommy didn’t laugh. Instead, she started saying something I didn’t understand about “God granting her the serenity to accept the things she cannot change”… so I just closed my eyes and tried to fall back to sleep. I guess I did because when I woke up, I was back in my crib and it was light out and when I called for mommy she came right away. It’s nice when mommy keeps me company at night, but she is much more smiley during the day. Maybe next time, I’ll call for daddy and see how that goes.Image

The World According to Rachel: Play Doh (reprint)

My summer schedule is kicking my butt and writing has taken a back seat to other things.  So, I’m cheating this time and reprinting something I wrote about 3 years ago when my youngest daughter was about to turn 2.  Anyone with a 2 year old knows what a challenging time it can be.  As I rode the terrible 2 roller coaster, I tried to imagine what my daughter might write if she could keep a diary/blog.  This is what I came up with… If you like it, then maybe I’ll cheat again next week ;).

The World According To Rachel
(also called: Why mommy will at some point go back to working outside the home.)

Play Doh

Today, mommy showed me a new toy called Play Doh. I loved it. Play Doh is squishy and can be shaped into anything. I asked mommy to make me Ming-Ming, Tuck, and Linny from my favorite TV show, ‘The Wonder Pets.’ Mommy made Ming-Ming look just like a duck, and Tuck looked pretty much like a turtle, but Linny did not look like a guinea pig at all so I asked her to do it again. Linny still did not look like a guinea pig but I didn’t want to hurt mommy’s feelings so I just pretended that it looked good. Mommy showed me how to make a snake, and also a pancake. We were having so much fun and laughing a lot. She didn’t even freak out when I tasted it (play doh does not taste very good in case you were wondering).

Then, I discovered that you can take two lumps of play doh and squish them together. To make it more fun, I said “squish, squish, squish” while I pushed the blue play doh into the pink play doh. Mommy said, “lets not mix all the colors” ( sometimes mommy can be really anal about that stuff- I think I heard her say it’s because she’s a Myers-Brigg  ‘J’). I mixed the colors anyway because it was so much fun. Then, mommy walked away from the table for a minute (she should really know better). When she came back, I had ripped up all the play doh into little pieces and thrown them on the floor- and then, because it made such a good noise, I threw all the play doh toys on the floor too. CRASH!!

Mommy gave a big sigh and got down on the floor. She was muttering something real low, but I couldn’t quite hear what it was. It had something to do with not giving up her career so she could stay home and pick cat hair and cheerio crumbs out of little lumps of play doh. I wish she had told me we could add things to the play doh!! Then mommy said it was time to clean up and she started putting the play doh away. That made me very sad and I started to cry. Mommy said “sorry kiddo, but you made a huge mess and it’s time to clean up.” That made me angry so I threw myself down on the floor and screamed a little. When I looked up, mommy wasn’t even in the room anymore.

I found her in my room getting things ready for my nap. You know what? I was a little tired. How does she know these things? Mommy and I have so much fun together. Next time, I will tell you about how I played hide and seek with my shoes and we were almost late to pick Sarah up from art class.

The Year of Meryl

I am slowly losing my mind.  As I sat down to type this, I thought to myself- I know I am at home with one of my children and that my husband has brought my other child to an activity.  But for the life of me, I cannot remember which child is sitting in the living room watching TV and which child is with my husband, or which activity they are at.  Is the older one at pottery class? Is the younger one at gymnastics?  Is it Saturday or Sunday?

This is not the first time this has happened.  Two years ago, I hired a babysitter to watch my then two year old so I could go to the dentist, only to forget to go to the dentist once the babysitter arrived.  (I’m completely serious.  I blanked on the appointment and went shopping instead.)  Sometimes, within five minutes of dropping my daughter off at preschool I check my rear view mirror to see if she is still in her booster seat.  For a second, I can’t remember if I’ve actually dropped her off or not (as if I would actually drive through the drop off line and not stop to drop her off).  These increasingly frequent moments of ‘momnesia’ are disturbing.

Admittedly, we are an over scheduled family.  Between the four of us we are participating in dance classes (ballet and jazz), karate, pottery, gymnastics, Girl Scouts, and various volunteer activities.  I spend about 15 hours a week driving the kids and myself back and forth to various schools, meetings, and extra-curricular activities.  There is something about all that driving that numbs my brain and causes me to forget (at least momentarily) exactly who is in the back seat and where I am supposed to be taking them.

Despite having a calendar on the wall, a date book in my purse, and a smart phone that syncs a calendar with my iPad, I still feel like I am only one momnesia moment away from a complete schedule malfunction.  At the end of each day, if everyone has gotten where they were supposed to be (despite being a few minutes late b/c I have initially gone to the wrong destination) I consider the day to be a success.

If I think about this as my definition of success for any length of time it bums me out.  There was a time (even after my first child was born) that success meant something completely different.  I was working full time as an Academic Advisor working with college students.  In addition to helping students with the more straight-forward agenda items of choosing a major and navigating university policy, I presented at professional conferences, created a peer mentor program, and served on various university committees.  I was confident in my professional abilities and respected by my peers.  I looked forward to going to work each morning.  My job was meaningful to me.  I felt a sense of connection and purpose.  I felt successful.

Like most parents, I went into parenthood with no idea of what to expect.  Maternity leave, to me, felt like pledging a very bizarre sorority.  Plagued with insecurity I always felt like there was information that I was not privy too. I just had to trust the process in order to gain access into the secret and exclusive society of competent mother hood.  I knew that I had pledge sisters out there somewhere, but I had no idea how to find them.  I was grateful to have sixteen weeks off from work (twelve of them paid) to bond with my newborn.  But at the end of those sixteen weeks, it was not overly difficult to hand my first born over to her carefully selected daycare provider and return to the place where I felt way more confident.

In the spring of 2006, for various personal reasons, I made the decision to leave full time work and be a stay at home mom.  I thought I might take a year or two off, but then my second daughter was born in late 2007 and being in a different place than I was in after the birth of my first child, I could never bring myself to put her in day care and return to the working world.  It is a decision that I have never regretted, but being a stay at home mom has changed me- usually I think for the better but sometimes I am not 100% sure.

There are women I know who seem to be at their most comfortable and most confident in their role as mother.  It doesn’t mean that they never need a break, or get frustrated, or that they always make perfect parenting decisions.  But whether they have two kids or five, they get a sense of satisfaction out of being a mother that gives their lives a feeling of being complete.   Whatever their individual situations their children seem to be at the center of their lives and their hearts.  They draw their energy and inspiration from their children. They identify first with being a mom.  I have a complete sense of respect and admiration for these women.  I am not one of these women.

I have been away from professional work for six years.  I didn’t realize until recently how much of my perceived value was tied to my professional identity.  Working fulfilled my social, intellectual, and self esteem needs.  As a stay at home mom I had to find new ways to do that and it was harder than I imagined it would be.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my children and I would give my life for them.  I wake up every morning feeling completely blessed.  I know how lucky I am to have two healthy kids, and I know how lucky I am to be able to choose to stay home with them.  I chose motherhood-twice.  I revel in the joys and struggle through the challenges that come with the territory.  I love being a mom.  I am good at it.  But I don’t believe staying home with my kids to be my purpose in life.  It’s not why I was put on this earth.   I want more.  I need more.

This September, for the first time ever, both of my kids will be on the same schedule.  They will get on the same bus at the same time and go to the same school.  I can sign them up for after school activities on the same days and pick them up together.  I will have a block of seven hours each day to schedule as I see fit.  Obviously there are things I will have to get done (chores, errands, etc.) but I won’t have to use the leftover minutes in between the activities of my family members.  I can give up being a time thief- stealing five minutes here and five minutes there, taking half a day to complete an activity that should take half an hour.

I am calling the 2012-2013 school year, “The Year of Meryl.”   I am not sure exactly what my year will look like.  So far I’ve decided this:

I am going to limit my volunteer activities to those things that are meaningful to me- no more volunteering to do something just because my kids are going to be there anyway.

I am going to set some goals with my writing and create plans to work towards meeting those goals.

I am going to drink beverages at any time of the day I please- without having to worry about needing to pee halfway through the 30 minute drive to my daughter’s preschool.

Going back to work is inevitable but I am looking forward to taking a little bit of time to figure out what I want to do next.  What is my purpose?  How do I create meaning in my life?  What contribution do I want to make?  Going forward, how will I define success?

If there are any parents out there who have had to re-evaluate their goals after a long stint as a stay at home parent, I’d love to hear from you.  What questions did you ask yourself?  How did you decide what to do next?

Dream a Little Dream, then Wonder What it Means…

A couple of nights ago I dreamed of chocolate.  Chocolate brownies, chocolate syrup, chocolate truffles, everything chocolate.  When I woke up and went into the kitchen the dream made sense.  On the counter were the nine boxes of Girl Scout cookies we had ordered, and two boxes of chocolate cake mix and containers of frosting for my daughter’s birthday cake.  Couple that with my decision to give up chocolate and the dream is not so strange.

Other dreams that I have had are not so easy to explain.  I have one recurring dream that seems easy enough to interpret on the surface.  I am back in college and it is the end of the semester.  There is a literature class I have never attended, but I never got around to dropping.  Now, I have 24 hours to read four William Faulkner novels to prepare for the final.  To make matters worse, I have no idea where the final is taking place and I don’t know how to find out.

Classic anxiety dream, right?  But it’s an anxiety dream that I should not be having.  I spent from 1996 to 2006 studying and working in the area of higher education, six of those years I spent as an academic adviser where part of my job was advising students on university policy pertaining to adding and dropping classes.  If there is anyone who knows how to appeal to the Dean of a college for an exception to policy (i.e. drop a class past the due date) it is me.  No matter how many times I have this dream, it never occurs to me to go to my adviser for help.  I find this fascinating.  The other part that makes little sense is this.  In all my years attending and working at schools, I have never seen an undergraduate professor count a final for more than 40% of the final grade.  If I had not attended class or turned in an assignment all semester, even getting an ‘A’ on this dream induced final exam will not let me pass the class.  So why am I even trying to prepare?

There is one dream from my childhood, though, that to this day I cannot explain but I remember it clear as day.  My family is dressed in bathing suits and we are all in a large hot tub inside our house.  We are making small talk when all of a sudden out the window we see King Kong making his way down our street.  King Kong is looking to eat anyone not eating a bathrobe, so we jump out of the hot tub throw on our robes and run up and down the streets warning our neighbors with shouts of “Don your bathrobes!!”  At the same time there is a cable car suspended from our telephone wires making its way down the street.  Those folks cannot get to a bathrobe in time, so King Kong eats them.

This banana is fine but what I'm really craving is a person not wearing a bathrobe.

Back off ape face! I have a hair dryer and I'm not afraid to use it!!

Anyone care to take a crack at that one??  What’s the strangest dream you’ve ever had?

The Funniest One in the Family…

One of my favorite childhood memories is of eating dinner together as a family.  I could say that this is because it was when we used to share things about our day, or because it was the only time each weekday that the four of us spent quality time together, but I would be lying.  I loved dinner together as a family, because during dinner, we would have votes as to who was the funniest person in the family, and I was almost always victorious.  It drove my little brother crazy.  I would make a funny editorial comment on somebody else’s story, my mother would announce a vote, and I would garner 3 out of 4 votes almost every time.

These days, I’ve been relegated to second funniest, behind my husband.   I feel certain, however, that when my daughters outgrow ‘pull my finger’ and other jokes that involve bodily functions as a punch line, I will once again claim my place at top of the funny heap.  (My husband, who is reading over my shoulder as I type this, vows to never give up the title.)

This is not to say that my brother is not funny.  My brother has always been funny.  Sometimes it was in a ‘ha-ha’ kind of way, and other times in a more ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ fascinating kind of way.  My brother collected baseball cards, but also toilet paper tubes.  His bedroom was like a strange science lab, with jars of gangly potato sprouts and dishes of slowly spreading moss.  Like a lot of ninth grade boys, my brother started a band with a few of his friends.  They called themselves ‘Marsupial Cannibals’ and they specialized in exclusively playing a cover of ‘Proud Mary’ and making lists of alternative band names.  My curly-haired brother even ran for class president using the slogan, “Go with the Fro!”  So, he is funny.  He’s just not the funniest one in the family.

These days, he has a lot of competition from my very funny kids.  On a recent trip to Costco, my older daughter took off on a floor model tricycle yelling, “you’ll never catch me alive” as she pedaled away.

My four-year old has already started writing her own material:

Knock Knock

Who’s There?

Popcorn

Popcorn Who?

Poop.

You might not find it funny, but that joke killed in her preschool class.

My brother is amazing in many ways.  First of all, he totally brings out my twisted sense of humor.  In the early 1990’s when I had dreams of some day being a comedy writer for ‘SNL’, he was an intricate partner in writing my first fake infomercial.  Together, we created our own song compilation album called, ‘Waco Rocks.’  Included on our album were only the ‘hottest’ songs such as ‘Burning Down the House’, ‘The Roof is on Fire’, and ‘Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot.’  (Insensitive? Perhaps.  But clever.)

My brother is a master with words.  As a kid he used to make up funny songs about our family.  Now, he is an inspiring poet and song writer who has recently gotten involved with the local spoken word scene.  I would link you to his website, but the last time I tried to draw attention to his massive talent he accused me of  pimping him out so I’ve learned my lesson.

My brother also wins the award for least judgmental sibling on the planet.  After seeing the movie ‘Cocoon’ as a kid (I’m embarrassed to say how old of a kid I actually was), I was having trouble sleeping so I went into my brother’s room to see if I could sleep in his vacant bunk bed.  But after a few minutes of worriedly staring at his ceiling I woke him up for a second time and asked him, “are you sure you’re not a pod person?”  He assured me he wasn’t, but I returned to my own room just in case.

Finally, I have to give credit where credit is due.  As the younger sibling, he had to endure my parents on his own for three years after I went off to college, which must have taken a sense of humor far beyond mine.   Even if he’s not “the funniest”, he is definitely the favorite.  When my brother shows up at my door, I am invisible to my children, something for which I am simultaneously envious and thankful.

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