Posts Tagged ‘motherhood’

bring your own cookies

February 25th, 2014    -    16 Comments

img_5702-1I’ve been a mother now for nearly 15 years. This is the sum total of my parenting advice: bring your own cookies.

When my daughter was in kindergarten she had a big, easy smile. She smiled all the time to everyone. Another mother asked what I had done to make my daughter like that. Her comment sent me over the moon with self-satisfaction.

I told her what Maya Angelou had said to Oprah. Angelou said always greet your child with a smile so they can see how much they are loved. A smile for a child is like handing them a cookie. Right out of the blue! This cookie is for you!

Whenever I stepped into the Kindergarten classroom at the end of the day I stood with the other parents at the back of the room and beamed. Smiling was pretty easy for me in those days. Kindergarteners are adorable. I had no expectations of performance or achievement. I wasn’t anxious about tests or grades or homework or arriving anywhere on time.

I just smiled, and the smile gave her everything and took nothing away.

Then things changed. Then I changed.

Things change all the time but they change in a big way come sixth grade, the beginning (in our school system) of letter grades, major homework and crowded, smelly classrooms of alarmingly overgrown kids who suffer daily insults that have nothing to do with their mother. There is no pack of parents at the back of the classroom, thank god, but emphatic instructions to stay far, far away and by all means stop embarrassing me!

A block up the street, she would get into my waiting car and I would ask how she was, and she would mumble something that didn’t tell me enough so I would ask again in rapid fire so that by the end of the four-minute ride home I would have pummeled her with all this and more:

How was lunch?
How was the test?
What was your grade?
What did the teacher say?
Was anyone nice to you?
Was anyone mean to you?
What’s the homework situation?
When will you start?
When will you finish?
How will you get it all done?

To my ear it was innocent enough: I was involved; I was attentive; I cared. But there was never going to be an answer that would make me feel secure with a reality that was out of my hands. I was giving her nothing but my own anxiety, as if her 25-lb. backpack weren’t enough.

It’s taken me awhile to realize what I’m really asking for as my daughter crumples into the car after a long school day. I’m asking for a cookie. Right out of the blue! Give me a cookie!

The thing is, she doesn’t carry the cookies. That’s not her job. If you want to share cookies with your kid, you’d better be the one to bring them.

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wonderful life

December 17th, 2013    -    12 Comments

wonderfullife-stewart-snow-bridge-tsr

There is a meme going around the teen social media sites (something you will only learn in a dark and fearful hour). If you had to live the rest of your life in a movie which one would you pick? It’s one of the least troubling things you’ll see your kids talking about, although the movies they mention might scare the beejesus out of you.

Someone answered It’s a Wonderful Life.

What a great movie. But it’s not a movie about a wonderful life. George Bailey has a terrible life, remember? And it keeps getting worse. First off, he is not the favored son. He’s denied his dreams, stuck in a dead-end job in a no-count town, left behind to take care of his needy neighbors and crazy relatives. He’s mortgaged up to his eyeballs living in a drafty old house with a passel of noisy kids. He’s dead broke, out of his mind with fear and rage, and probably going to jail if he doesn’t jump off a bridge first. And he’s not exactly father of the year.

Janie, will you stop playing that lousy piano?!$#@&%

Yesterday afternoon after I dropped my daughter off at the tutoring place I stepped into the Starbucks next door for a cup of tea and noticed the guy standing in line behind me. It was the tutor, grabbing a quick cup before the start of the session. Telling you the second story in a week about math tutoring might lead you to conclude that my daughter is either less fortunate or more fortunate than you thought. Either way, this year at school hasn’t been easy. There is a passage that befalls young people: the journey to discover who they are reveals by process of elimination who they aren’t.

I’m not the smartest girl in the class, Mom. I’m not that girl anymore.
I’m not a nerd, I’m not a geek, I’m not a math whiz.
I’m not like that. I don’t want that. I don’t care.
I hate my life. Get out of my room.

It’s not what you would call wonderful.

The tutor didn’t recognize me until I told him who my daughter was, and then the first thing he said was this:

Your daughter is wonderful.

The worry that lifted from me at that moment—the fear, doubt, brittle aching raging pain that departed my heart at the Starbucks on Rosemead at Del Mar on Monday at 4:21 p.m. was so divinely lifesaving that I have to repeat it.

Your child is wonderful. Yes, yours.

We all have to repeat it, every day, over and over, because it’s probably true and we’ve probably forgotten.

It’s not until the last six minutes of the movie that George Bailey’s life turns into any kind of wonderful, because that’s when he wakes up and realizes that it was wonderful all along.

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write the letter

November 17th, 2013    -    12 Comments

mary-cassatt-letterA few months ago I received a packet of letters in the mail. They were the last letters sent by my mother to a friend who, cleaning out her drawers 14 years later, decided to send them to me. They trace the first months of my daughter’s life, which were also the last months of my mother’s life, for she had just begun a course of treatment for advanced cancer. Reading the letters, I saw what she had written about me and her new grandbaby, the commonplace detail that had given her something uplifting to share. I could see what we have lost in the abandoned art and ritual of correspondence; how by our modest connections we extend our life and love. These remnants of my mother’s simple, selfless friendship remind me to do what I urge you here: write the letter. Write the letter today.

 Aug. 16, 1999

I’m feeling stronger today. I guess time is the best healer. It was so nice of you to take the time and the effort to encourage me and show me your love and friendship.

Karen went home last night from the hospital. Little Georgia will stay on. It will be decided on a day to day basis how long she stays.

Aug. 28, 1999

Georgia now weighs 4 lbs. and 10 oz. The baby came home from the hospital last Tuesday afternoon. We talked to Ed & Karen today. They both sound tired.

Sept. 5, 1999

I talked to Karen this morning. Georgia now weighs 5 lbs. 4 oz. Tricia was with Karen & Ed from Tuesday night to Friday evening. She was a big help. Karen seemed to feel so much better.

I went to a Cancer Support meeting last Wednesday. Met so many nice people with lots of helpful hints & advice. Got a free wig also. It’s got some gray in it, so I’ll finally have more gray hair.

Sept. 12, 1999

Talked to Karen yesterday. Georgia goes for a check-up on Monday. Her dad told me she might weight 6 lbs. She eats all the time. Some friends of mine are going to give me a Grandma shower on Sept. 25th. It’ll be a brunch. Isn’t that nice of them!

My hair is falling out daily.

Sept. 19, 1999

Right now, I have a strange hair-do. I usually wear a hat when I go outside. Don’t want to shock an unsuspecting person.

Sept. 27, 1999

Georgia weighs about 7 lbs. now. She’s had either colic or some stomach distress lately. Karen calls me every week, sometimes 2 or 3 times. She is still very stressed out & worries about everything.

Sept. 29, 1999

Karen sent me directions how to meditate while sitting in a chair. I do it twice a day. Each time about 10 minutes. I hope I’m doing it correctly.

Oct. 14, 1999

We are not going to Calif. this weekend. I had a hard time making up my mind. Karen said since I couldn’t decide, let outside influences determine. The nurse called to tell me about my blood test. My white cells were down. Then on Monday Dr. Bell, the internist, put on a 24 hr. heart monitor on me to see if anything unusual showed up. That’s when I decided home was the best place for me. read more

anthem of the empty room

August 28th, 2013    -    11 Comments

jill_bedroomI’m cleaning off the desk today. Then I’ll tackle the drawers. By process of elimination, I’m headed for the floor.

I finished the manuscript for Paradise in Plain Sight, the book that New World Library will publish next spring. By finished, I mean I had the thought that I was finished. Every day I’m more finished than before. Soon I will gather the files and shoot them into a life of their own. I want my hands free to do simple things.

These hands. What will I do with them? That is the question that keeps coming around. Now what? Now where? What’s next?

My sister told me she has decided to retire next spring. She is younger than I am, and she has worked longer and harder than I ever did doing complicated things. She is at ease with her decision, the only ruffle coming when people kindly say, “I can’t wait to see what you will do next.” It is just small talk, but right there is the expectation that there’s got to be something great and interesting to show for ourselves.

All around, the year reaches crescendo: kids starting kindergarten, fourth grade, high school, and college. Everywhere, the firsts, which carry in them the lasts, and leave the emptiness of closets and chairs. It seems impossible to be finished. No less impossible to begin. But impossible things happen every day. Today.

My friend and dharma sister Jody Kujaku Glienke came to me after sitting zazen on Saturday. She handed me a pair of headphones and asked me to listen to a new song she’d written and sung about her daughter now grown and living in New York. She stood behind me like a good mother, so she wouldn’t intrude on my hearing and force a response. She was surprised when I turned around, sobbing at the end of her sweet song. She held me in her arms. Because I have a daughter still in her room, but halfway to New York, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Don’t we all? Let this console you, let this hold your song: the empty room where we find ourselves alone and together again.

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rite of passage

August 12th, 2013    -    42 Comments

baby-crib-in-empty-roomGeorgia turned 14 today. When she woke up and got dressed, I called her over to my desk.

Do you want to see the photos of you right after you were born? You mean when I was all wrinkled and red? No.

Do you know the time you were born? 10:04 a.m.

Do you know who was the first one to see you besides Dad?

She knew; she knows it all. Then she sat up excitedly in the scanty new Brandy Melville shorts and crop top, a gift from a girlfriend. “My favorite outfit of all time.” She was up late last night fielding happy birthday texts. “Really long ones.” She was going to walk into our little downtown and spend the day with pals.

“I’ll be in touch,” she said, on top of the world.

Then it was clear: she’s reached the point where parents don’t give you a birthday. Your friends do. I have a familiar sense of where I am in this go-round. Precisely where I was 14 years ago. After her birth I was too sick to see her for several days. I was no more useful for the next, oh, seven years. Through feeding and teething, coughs and fevers, tears and terrors, night after night, I felt just as clueless then as now. But something spoke to me, coaxed me out of my fright and confusion, brought me solace, and one day the crib was emptied.

“Today is a day to celebrate,” a knowing friend said to me. What shall I celebrate? Coming this far, I suppose. Having far to go. Being upright, in comfortable shoes, with a good dog at my side, friends near and far, an empty road ahead, and absolutely no idea.

Absolutely no idea.

I’ll be in touch.

***

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Momma Zen, a rite of passage, published the year Georgia turned seven. Winner selected this Sunday, Aug. 18.

 

 

a daughter is turning fourteen

August 7th, 2013    -    10 Comments

5625882690_66af0e601f_o_mShe wants balloons at the pool party, and I think a cloud of purple balloons would be just right. There is no such thing as too young or fun in these last days before turning fourteen.

I have thought lonely and long about how far beyond my reach you are now, how gone beyond my knowing. There is so much of me you do not need or want or like. That you cannot like just now, on the brink of turning fourteen.

We bought school supplies today. How few days like this remain—new ruler, pens, and notebooks, graph paper, pocket folders, pencil cases—a hundred dollars worth. I resented the trouble and money. But when you came home and loaded your backpack for next Wednesday’s bell, I cried over these lines.

Am I more frightened than at the start? I thought I’d break you then but it’s me torn in two.

I said yes, invite everyone to the party, twice as ever before, let everyone come for this last splash and  splurge—greasy pizza and pixie sticks—all our beautiful daughters, our hearts, our dreams, let them laugh and scream, be silly, be lovely, take the cake, claim the prize, the women we’ve never seen and might yet meet, our daughters are turning fourteen.

 

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rise and shine

May 20th, 2013    -    1 Comment

Buddha wakes at 5 amShawn Ledington Fink was one of my first readers and online friends. It’s nice to watch her twin girls grow up and play. Since I’m in the thick of writing a book, I asked her to pop in and have some fun. This is a guest post.

We sat in a circle in the lovely, peaceful home of Lil Omm Yoga Studio in Washington, DC.

I listened as Maezen’s voice soothed me. It sounded just as I had remembered from the year before when she led a workshop for mothers.

“Buddha means awake,” she said to a group of dozens of mamas like me.

My eyes lit up.

I had no idea.

***

I’ve been on a quest to wake up and stay awake for years—becoming a mother only intensified those feelings.

And though since becoming a mother all I feel like I want to do is sleep, the reality is that my daughters are my little Buddhas—as Maezen gently pointed out to me in her book Momma Zen.

Buddha wakes at 5 a.m. sometimes at my house. Or in the middle of the night with a bad dream.

Buddha has a temper tantrum over not getting her way sometimes.

Buddha thinks God is in all of us.

Buddha likes to dance and sing silly songs.

Buddha likes to solve fourth grade math problems even though she’s only in first.

Buddha is everywhere at my house, waking me up in each pile of clutter, each handmade masterpiece, each random sock strayed on the kitchen floor and each, “Mommy, watch this.”

My daughters are the reasons I am awake—the reasons I can walk a curvy path of a nature trail and see a whole new world of tiny details I never would have noticed before they came along—like a tiny seed or a wiggly worm or a spotted leaf that’s been brunch for a caterpillar.

Wake up, that’s what my children say to me each day.

They say it when they tell me about their dreams at night.

They say it when they use words like “Mommy is the best,” and when they call me loving and caring and, my favorite, “She takes care of me.”

They say it when we’re struggling and I don’t know what I’m doing.

They say it when I’m spending too much time in my head and all I hear is, “Mommy … Mommy … Mommy.”

Wake up.

Wake up.

Wake up.

Their whispers and murmurs and screams and tears and belly laughs and silly antics are the bell, chiming all day, every day.

***

All this talk about waking up, it’s everywhere. We all want to feel more in the moment and more connected and more engaged.

But I’m left to wonder if we’re more awake than we realize, us mothers?

There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not up before dawn, and waiting.

Alert.

Ready at a moment’s notice.

Pouncing at the slightest sound of pain or hurt or difficulty.

Five or 500 steps ahead of a negotiation about what to consume or not to consume.

Ready to point out another wonder or to be cracked open wide to the awe of just simply being alive.

Perhaps this is the hardest part of being a mother?

Always on. Always alert. Always awake. Always ready.

And yet … and yet that’s exactly how I want to be and how I want to feel and how I want to live.

I had no idea. 

If you have a Buddha that wakes at 5 a.m.—or later—perhaps you are interested in signing up for Shawn’s latest offering, The Playful Family Adventure—an e-course this summer that will inspire you, motivate you and encourage you to be present, peaceful and playful. Register now!  The course begins June 24.

LOGO for PFA Summer 2013

ABOUT SHAWN: Shawn Ledington Fink is the author of The Playful Family and the Thinking Mama behind Awesomely Awake, a project inspiring families to find their happy place. She is a peace and kindness spreader and has led more than 300 Mamas through her e-course The Abundant Mama Project, which leads mothers through an intense gratitude practice to help them develop an attitude of abundance. You can follow Shawn on her Blog or find her on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

prayer for a mother becoming

May 8th, 2013    -    74 Comments

With time, your roots grow deep and your branches long. You lean a little less backward in fear and a little less forward in doubt, resting solidly right where you are. When the wind blows, you bend. When it stops, you straighten. Your boughs provide shelter and shade. Your strength supports the sky.

Momma Zen

There is a quiet hollow to my days now. I have less to do and more time to observe. I can see inside the hearts of new mothers and old mothers and grandmothers. And grandfathers too. Good folks in every trembling state of hope, exhilaration, despair, exhaustion and worry. And so I fold my hands and pray.

May you be tired and afraid
overwhelmed and ready to quit.
Quit!
Start over, over
ten thousand times over
roll out, get up, fall down
break into tears
open in laughter
sing and dance
be silly, be glad.
May you forget most things,
remember everything,
come to know in your bones
with your blood
through your eyes
from your lips
out of earth
deep below, well beyond
you are love.
You are just love.
Amen.

A companion to Prayer for a Girl Becoming.

You might also like “Motherhood is everything,” an interview at Sweeping Zen.

These are the last days to register for the weekend retreat June 8-9 in Marin.

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progress*

April 29th, 2013    -    5 Comments

bamboo

It looks like a two-year-old hoisting herself up between two bamboo stalks.
A four-year-old dressed like an elephant in a ballet recital,
crying on the way home, “I was the worst one.”
It looks like a five-year-old who can’t wipe the smile off her face.
Trying a cartwheel.
Falling down and liking it.
Getting a stamp, a sticker, a hug.
Getting better. Getting good.
Then, taking a break.
Shrugging it off.
“I’m just not into it right now.”
Being told, “You’re not strong enough.”
Thinking, “I’m not good enough.”
Holding a secret hope and then letting it die.
Joining the swim team.
Loving a horse.
Watching the Olympics.
Getting an autograph.
Progress looks like a new place, a new year, new friends, and a coach who says
“You can be on our team.”
Hours and hours. Night after night.
Being tired and sore and scared.
It looks like a sprained ankle. A stress fracture. A broken toe.
Six weeks wearing a boot.
It looks like quitting.
And then starting again. For the fun.
*That’s what progress looks like. Because there isn’t any such thing as progress.
There’s no curve, no line, no end. No graph or dots.
And never, ever, ever, is there a reason to compare.
A young girl, weary of the pressure to improve
“I already do things no one else even tries!”
and me, seeing all of it, the endless chase of it,
the ache and the letting go
glad to have a seat at the back of the house.

telling

April 14th, 2013    -    44 Comments

bracha_amulet_2Every now and then someone will write to me and say, “It feels like you are reading my mind. It’s so comforting to know that I’m not alone. You have a way of writing exactly what I need to hear at the moment I need to hear it.”

Other people will pipe up and say about me, “She is so not me. I can’t relate to her at all. We’d never click in person. I dislike the way she writes as if her story is exactly the same as any mother’s story.”

Whatever people say is revealing, because whether we realize it or not, we are always telling a story about ourselves.

Stories are universal. We think that our story is unique and special. Particularly painful, particularly wise, particularly interesting. What really matters is when we see that our stories are the same, because then we see the invisible connection between us—a greater truth than told in the particulars. For that moment, we stop judging each other and begin sharing what lies beneath the story: love.

Here are two pieces of storytelling I want to share with you today.

Amulet: Spring 2013

First, a community of wildly creative women has collaborated on the spring edition of an online magazine called Amulet. A friend asked me to spread the word, and this is what she said. See if it doesn’t sound familiar.

“We have poured endless love and guts into it, and you know the drill—being mothers and workers and creators—whoa. But we are so in love with doing what we do.

If you aren’t familiar, Amulet is a field guide for seasonal living that includes inspiration to help us keep connecting with the earth under our feet, the world around us, and the universe inside us through prose, DIY, recipes, herbal stuff, book stuff, music, hand made goods—every day life stuff. ”

Sounds like my stuff.

Lost in Living

In January I shared the story of a new documentary about the intersection of motherhood and artistic expression, Lost in Living. Filmed over seven years, Lost In Living confronts the contradictions inherent in personal ambition and self-sacrifice, female friendship and mental isolation, big projects and dirty dishes. The response was amazing. Many of you wanted to know how you could see it. Now you can. While the film makes its way around the country in public screenings, it is also now available on DVD. I have a copy of the DVD to give away to a reader who comments on this post anytime this week.

You will know if it’s your story. All stories are your stories. They tell you that you are not alone.

The winner for this giveaway has been chosen and notified. Thank you for entering.

unhatched

April 8th, 2013    -    4 Comments

I was going to write a special post a month before Mother’s Day and put it up today. I marked my calendar. Collected info. Jotted down some ideas. But I’ve decided I can’t. Or rather, I won’t. Looking at the matter closely, I see that it’s one more thing I don’t really need to do.

Here’s the deal: I spend way too much time troubling with what comes next. Thinking ahead. Hatching a scheme. Nagging, pushing, poking. Trying to produce something, make a difference, get a result.

I was going to ask you to buy my books. And say nice things about them on Amazon or Goodreads. Recommend them to friends. Come to a retreat. Do something for me. But I’d like to take a little break from that. My special post is this post instead.

I’ve noticed that most of my problems—my conflicts and disappointments—are because I’m trying to get somebody to do something I want. Only rarely do I realize that I don’t have to do that. Because everything truly wonderful (except most clean laundry and occasional meals) appears before me ready made.

Like this.

 il_570xN.242842258

Custom Bird’s Nest Talisman Necklace by Wendy Cook

Something truly wonderful, ready made for you to give to any mother, sister, or friend for Mother’s Day. The perfect reminder that the eggs always hatch when they are ready.

 

love letter to a teenage girl

March 12th, 2013    -    24 Comments

valentine-note-foldYou’ll just have to get used to this, Mom, because every teenage girl is like this.

My mother said, in one of her last long sighs in the short last year of her life, that all the problems I thought were so big when my daughter was one year old were really small problems, although they seemed so monumental at the time. The problems of eating and sleeping and teething and talking and knowing and growing and the like.

She offered the flimsy consolation a young mother can’t yet receive, from her own mother long past, that “When they are little they have little problems and when they are big they have big problems.”

Last night my daughter relaxed over dinner out, just the two of us, and showed me a view of her problems, which sounded like this: no one likes me and I’m not pretty and no one likes me and I can’t help it and I don’t know and its hopeless and I’m ugly and stupid and no one likes me I’m not pretty and no one likes me and I’m not pretty and you can’t help me and you’ll have to get used to this because every teenage girl is like this!

I sat there dumb and numb and having no idea how to repair a heart I’d never known was broken and stanch the pain that poured out of her mouth and across the table and up my spine and into the hollows of my breathless chest as I hoped against hope that we could just once be handed a small problem to fret over and fix.

And then I granted the absence she asked for and wrote this instead. In between every word is the sobbing heaving ocean of a mother’s silent love that does not fix a thing.

 

 

the last fall

March 5th, 2013    -    12 Comments

12778814-oranges-in-ground-who-fallen-from-tree

I want to tell you that the baby won’t fall
the tooth won’t break
the skin won’t scrape
no row of stitches at the hairline
you never saw it coming
I want to tell you that the teasing won’t hurt
the teacher won’t frown
the kids won’t laugh
her name won’t be the last one called
because I suck at kickball that’s why
I want to tell you that your heart won’t rip
your eyes won’t mist your breath won’t catch
when she disappears into her lonely self
beneath a sweatshirt two sizes too big
a widow
to her babyhood
I’m not that girl anymore
I want to tell you that the flowers won’t bloom
the leaves won’t bud
the fruit won’t dangle and drop
that nothing fades and nothing dies
nothing hurts and nothing leaves
you’ll never see it going
but it will go
it will go home
the way a period ends a sentence
the earth is our mother
she heals even the last fall.

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