Parenthood

housewifeI wake up and go downstairs, head a little foggy. I didn’t get quite enough sleep last night. Entering the kitchen, I see that my husband had left me small “gifts” in the sink – the dishes he had used for his own breakfast but didn’t bother washing. “Darn,” I think to myself. “Do I REALLY need to clean up after him?”

I don’t have to, of course, but I often do. I also don’t have to clean after children who, at ages 10 and 12, are more and more capable of taking care of themselves – and of their mess. But I often do clean up after everyone, mostly because my standards of cleanliness and orderliness are higher than everyone else’s in this household, so I notice – and mind – messes that they don’t even see.

But after a long month without the kids (they stayed with their grandparents part of the summer), and then a week alone as my husband flew to bring them back, I suddenly don’t care about any of it. I love them so much, I am so happy to have everyone back under the same roof again, that I gladly accept the mess it brings and much prefer it to a pristine, empty house.

I still think it’s important that children learn to contribute to the household as soon as they can. This state of things: “I can’t recall even the mere notion of actually doing a chore ever even crossing my mind. Household tasks seemed to magically get done, and I never cared to ponder how my food-coated plate moved from the table to the dishwasher and back into the cupboard, or how the dirty clothes that I threw down the laundry chute reappeared in my dresser drawers, clean and stain-free” – this is NOT how I want my kids to grow up, although I suspect they do, for now.

I also have to admit that even if I often clean up after my husband, he does take on tasks that I much rather delegate, such as house and car maintenance.

But my main point is, that I’m happy. So happy, that I don’t mind cleaning after my family as long as they stay here, with me, forever! I’m not sure how long this blissful state of things is going to last. I suspect I’ll be back to complaining fairly soon. But for now, I SO relate to a friend’s recent posting on Facebook, where she said, “The baby birds are back, each in its own nest with its own jet lag. Mama bird couldn’t be happier.” πŸ™‚

I Miss You

by MomGrind

To my daughters,

You left a couple of days ago to spend a month with your grandparents. I’m happy for you that you get to have this experience, and I’m excited about spending the month with your dad, doing things that we’ve been doing less of since becoming parents, such as traveling, going to the movies and going out to eat.

But I am so sad!

It’s like in the song by Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares To You.”
Since you’ve gone I can do whatever I want,
I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
but nothing can take away these blues,
’cause nothing compares to you.

It’s strange, you know, because now that you’re not here, I can see how much of my life revolves around you, even when you’re not around. And I can also see how much guilt I’ve been carrying ever since I started this blogging business, which I am so very proud of, but we’ve paid a price over the past three years, haven’t we? I’ve been consumed with building this business, and even though I worked from home and was always here for you, emotionally I’ve been invested in the business in a way that made me less available to you than before.

I’ve been cutting back lately, focusing on my existing clients and being very careful about accepting new clients. I realize that I have so little time left to spend with you, now that you’re almost 10 and almost 12. Soon you’ll be drifting away, detaching yourselves from me emotionally and attaching yourselves to your friends, and that’s OK – it’s a normal process, even if a painful one.

But for now you’re still mine, and you had such a hard time saying goodbye on Sunday morning, coming back for another hug and then another, that I had tears in my eyes, tears of sadness and tears of gratefulness and tears of relief. You love me. And I love you, so much.

Sitting at my computer this morning, typing away, I realize that I am typing without guilt, without that familiar sense of urgency – how do I arrange my morning efficiently, so that when you’re back from school, I can spend some time with you? Over the past year or so I have learned to work around your schedules, waking up early to accomplish some writing while you’re still asleep, working feverishly so that afternoons can be spent together, making an effort to log off at 5pm, go make dinner and forget about work until the next day.

But it didn’t always work out this way, and as I was building my business, there were countless days when I spent 12 hours each day at my computer, writing blog posts, tweeting, posting on Facebook, and responding to clients’ emails.

“Silly mommy guilt,” says my husband, and adds that a dad – even the most devoted dad – would never feel this way unless he was truly never home and always traveling, which is obviously not the case here. But I’m a mom, and I do feel guilt. Actually, it’s not so much the guilt as being afraid of missing precious moments with you.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love my work. I think it’s amazing that I was able to build my own business, completely on my own, and get to a place where I make a good living from it. I also believe it’s incredibly important for women (just as it is for men) to be financially self-sufficient and to realize their talents and abilities outside of home keeping and motherhood. I’m setting a great example for you. Plus, honestly? I couldn’t be a stay at home mom for longer than the five years I did it. It was great while you were very young, but by the time you had entered kindergarten, I’d had enough. I was getting bored!

So I am mostly at peace with my choices. But whatever choices we make in life, there’s always a price to pay. Sometimes I feel torn – almost physically torn, pulled in several different directions – between your needs, and your dad’s needs, and my own needs, and my work.

So here’s the plan. I will keep working, building this wonderful business that I am so proud of, doing work that I love. But I will continue to be *very* particular when it comes to accepting new clients, focusing on my existing clients, and keeping my workload at a level that enables me to work fewer hours each day, so that I can not only spend more time with you, but also be more available to you emotionally.

After all, money is nice, but you are the most important thing in my life.

My smart, funny, beautiful daughters. I love you.

See you in August.

mom with kidsBecoming a mother is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It’s a wild ride, for sure, with lots of unexpected twists and turns, but despite the challenges of being a mom, I wouldn’t change a thing. These are just a few of the things I love about it:

1. Watching them grow. Watching your kids probably sounds pretty boring to non-parents, and yes, the way we ooh and aah over every little thing they do must be annoying, but we can’t help it. The simple act of watching our kids grow and learn and just go about their daily lives fills us with so much pleasure and pride. Any parent will relate to the intense pleasure that can be derived from simply watching two siblings play, without them realizing they’re being watched.

2. Experiencing childhood all over again. This actually has a negative side too, because as you watch your child experience life, you will get to experience things you’ve stopped noticing a long time ago (pretty flowers, clouds in the sky) – but you will also experience again the pain, rejection and hard life lessons that are an inevitable part of growing. I still cherish the opportunity to re-experience things that would have otherwise been buried in my distant past.

3. Love as you never knew it before. When I’m in a cynical mood, I say that our selfless love to our kids is really quite selfish – after all, they are the ones who carry our genes, they are our future, so loving them and protecting them is like guarding an important investment – like loving ourselves. Still, I often revel in how deep my love to my children is. The way I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that I will protect their safety and their life at any cost – including the cost of my own life. The way I’d much rather feel pain myself than having them experience pain. It’s an incredible love – the deepest I have ever experienced. And in many ways, it IS selfless.

4. Laughing and being silly. It’s not that grownups don’t laugh – of course we do – but we laugh far less than kids do. Being a mom gives me an opportunity to be silly in ways I don’t think I would feel comfortable with if I wasn’t a parent.

5. Thinking and rethinking. Kids ask question, and those questions are often surprisingly deep (surprisingly, because – after all – their brains are still not fully developed). Questions such as, “Do you believe in god?” or “Do we have a moral obligation to help the homeless” (In their words, “Should we give this homeless person some money?” Which opens up the discussion on what our obligation is, and what is the best way to help him). I love the way my kids make me think, and often re-think my positions.

Even though part of me worries and frets about the kids growing and detaching, a different part knows that every stage of their life is going to be a unique, intense experience. As I said, being a mother is a wild ride.

mom comforting childOr, more accurately – love the kids always, love the job most of the time, but often resent several aspects of the job:

1. Constant tiredness. Being a parent is extremely draining! At the end of each day, I am so tired – I never felt that tired before becoming a mom. And lest you think I’m a freak, let me share a story with you. My late grandmother Eve was an amazing person – warm and loving, much more so than I’ll ever be. She loved children and adored us, her grandchildren.

But whenever one of her three daughters called with the amazing news that she was pregnant, grandma would start crying. “Why are you crying, mom?” they would ask, assuming her tears were tears of joy. The reply? Those were NOT tears of joy, but tears of sorrow for her beloved daughter that will now face all the challenges and difficulties of motherhood.

2. Guilt and self-doubt. I know I’m a good mom. But like most moms, I often feel guilty about small, daily things (“I was so busy, I hardly talked to my kids today!) and also about big life decisions, such as choosing to have a career. A real-life friend recently told me, over brunch, that she’s one of those rare moms who do not experience guilt – at all. She works hard, and she knows she does what’s best for her, for her family and for her kids. I always respected this woman, but now I respect her even more. Guilt is such a huge waste of time and energy. I still can’t help feeling it, almost daily.

3. Stress. Relates to the guilt – kids have the ability to give us so much pleasure, but also cause so much stress and angst. Whether dealing with temper tantrums, the inherent ungratefulness of kids, or the famous motherly guilt, sometimes I think kids add to one’s life equal amounts of stress and pleasure. I remember reading an article, years ago, where scientists tried to measure happiness. I can’t remember everything the article said, but one thing that stuck with me was the claim that while having children changes a person’s life, it does not necessarily make them happier.

4. Worry. I worry a lot about my kids. I believe all moms worry to some extent, but of course those of us who tend to worry in general, worry even more. I worry about their health, about their social success at school, about their future. I worry about my own relationship with them and the many ways it will change as they grow. I worry a lot. πŸ™‚

5. Pressure. There’s a lot of pressure on moms these days, and a lot of it comes from other moms, which is quite unfortunate. As long as we’re normal (not talking about cases of neglect or abuse of course), we’re all doing our best, and for the most part, at least from what I see around me, we’re doing a darn good job. But there’s so much pressure, so much criticism. Whatever choices you make as a mom (breastfeed or not, stay home or not, play with your kids or let them be, keep their diets “perfect” or allow them regular access to treats) – whatever you do, SOMEONE is going to think you’re a terrible mom and criticize you, openly or behind your back. Usually, it will be another mom.

Having said all of the above, I do love being a mom, and would not make different choices if I were given the chance. I will list the positive sides of parenting (as I see them) next week, so all you Mothering Police folks can relax.

In the photo: September 2005. Comforting my then 4-years-old daughter.

kids menu
A typical kids’ menu

A few months ago, I wrote the draft for an elaborate blog post on how we don’t really need kid friendly food. It was basically a rant about restaurants’ assumption that kids are only supposed to like junk, about the fact that food from the kids’ menu is always so BLAND – somehow, despite all the sodium, it is flavorless. Boring. And it’s not well made, either. The pasta is often overcooked, the pizza dough a little too soft.

I then went on to explain that I’m suspicious of “kid friendly food” because I want my kids to learn to love and appreciate good food and inspired cooking. My husband and I are serious foodies and don’t want our kids to be confined to bland, boring food. We want their food to be flavorful and delicious – just like ours.

But then, a few weeks ago, we visited Mendocino, California and stayed at Stanford Inn, an eco-friendly resort. The inn’s restaurant, Ravens’, serves dairy in the morning, but dinner is purely vegan. While we found the food to be absolutely delicious:

indian crepe
Indian Crepe – garam masala scented crepe, roasted yams and vegan mint raitha

vegan sushi
Sushi – nori, tofu, daikon, shiitake, carrot, sushi rice, almond butter.

Miso glazed eggplants on a bed of brown and wild rice
Miso glazed eggplants on a bed of brown and wild rice

In fact it was the best meal we had on that trip – my eight years old daughter wouldn’t touch anything off the menu. Since there wasn’t a kids’ menu, we were quite grateful to have had Goldfish crackers in our backpack!

Goldfish crackers

I guess you could say her dinner was vegan too. πŸ™‚

She did manage quite well with the fabulous, creamy, rich desserts:

vegan chocolate cake

And I have learned my lesson: While I love to have my kids order off the regular menu and experiment (and my older daughter is quite good at doing that), and while I agree that kids should be exposed to high-quality, varied food at a young age, sometimes a kids’ menu – or a bowl of Goldfish crackers – can be a lifesaver.

teen-smokingShe was genuinely surprised. “You’re talking about sex and drugs with your 8 and 10 year old kids?” Her immediate reaction was, “I don’t need to discuss these things with my daughter. She’s such a good girl, surrounded by good kids – these things won’t even occur to her.” Between the lines, I thought I could hear a silent “What if you’re putting ideas into their heads?”

The way I see it, my kids are at an age when they start to grasp more and more about the grownup world surrounding them. They are still very naive, of course, and they don’t comprehend the many subtleties of grownup actions and interactions, but they can definitely understand simple messages and ideas such as “Sometimes young girls are pressured to have sex before they are ready” (yes, we talked about sex and they have a basic understanding of what it is).

Or “People use drugs and alcohol becuase it makes them feel good, but then they need to use even more becuase the good feeling only lasts for a while, and becuase it’s very expensive and very bad for people’s health, becoming addicted – feeling the need to keep using these substances – makes them lose everything. In fact, some of the homeless people you see on the street are there because they have become addicted to alcohol or to drugs. So it’s better to learn to feel good about ourselves without using drugs or alcohol, and always say no if someone offers them to us.”

Kids this age still listen to their parents and value their input, and this is important. A few years from now, as Betsy Wuebker so eloquently puts it, their brains will be abducted by aliens and they will only be returned to me around the age of 20. (See her incredible post What I Learned From Motherhood for more). Which means that now is the time for me to talk about it all – sex, drugs, alcohol, substance abuse, and the peer pressure that could some day make them think they should do things and engage in actions that could be devastating to their health and to their future.

So, am I putting ideas into my kids’ heads? I don’t think I am. Despite living in a good neighborhood with great schools, I am fairly confident that my children WILL have to face at least some of these dilemmas and temptations as teenagers. Just like we talk about how bad smoking cigarettes is, or about bullying, it’s important to talk about sex, drugs and alcohol, the pressure to engage in these activities, and the possibility of addiction and of disease. And right now is the best time to do so – while they still listen. Hopefully, some of it will stay with them through the years and guide them towards making the right decisions, at least some of the time.

Of course, I could be very wrong. πŸ™‚ Would love to read your opinions.

I became a mother in December 1999. Ten years later, I am still struggling to cope with the wide range of emotions that comes with motherhood. I truly had no idea.

Motherhood has taught me love that I never knew before. Of course I loved my husband, my parents, my brother and a couple of close friends, but with motherhood came the kind of burning love that places the other person at the center of your universe, an all-consuming love that makes you realize that if the need ever arose, you would gladly give your life for the other person. The kind of love that makes you physically experience pain when they feel pain, that makes you wish you could take the pain – physical or emotional – away from them and experience it yourself so that they don’t have to.

I have never loved as deeply or as fully as I love my children.

Motherhood also taught me fear. When you love so deeply, when every fiber of your existence fervently wishes that another person would grow and flourish and survive, you sometimes feel deep, uncontrollable fear. What if something horrible happened to that person? You can’t even imagine that. The thought sends shivers down your spine. And with each case of a kidnapped or molested child you keep them closer to you, and you read about how bad helicopter parenting is and how you should set your kids free, roaming the streets and riding subways, and you don’t care – they are the most important thing in your life and bad things can happen to them becuase they are small and helpless and so help you God, you are going to keep them as safe as you can even if it means you are a bad, overprotective parent.

And when you do let them roam, reluctantly, the worry is so intense, it is almost unbearable.

Motherhood has taught me that you can love someone with all your might, you can love them as you have never loved before, and they would love you back with all their heart, but the relationship would still be stressful and draining and tiring, so much so that sometimes you would be left with nothing more to give. I once read a forum where a woman talked about a mother she had seen at the supermarket – her child was nagging “mom mom mom MOM!” and the mother just ignored him. The woman was upset that the mother had ignored her child and was quick to label her as a “bad mom.” I wouldn’t be so quick to label her. As a seasoned mom I know that you sometimes get to a place where you feel so tired, so drained, that you simply cannot give anymore, you must distance yourself emotionally – even just for a few minutes – or you would risk burning out.

Motherhood makes me feel deeply and fully, in ways that I never knew existed, every single day. It’s a wild ride, and one of the most intense experiences of my life. Ten years after becoming a mother, I am still struggling to make sense of the wide range of emotions that comes with motherhood.

Happy Mother’s Day.

In the photo: holding my firstborn, winter 2000.