I started this as a mother’s day piece — “5 things I’ve learned as a mom”, and I think it’s à propos for this week as well. The girls thought I would need a vat of tissues to staunch my emotions as my oldest walked across the stage, graduating from her childhood into a future she has planned and defined. My heart cheers her dreams as my head fears the bumps and bruises that mark reality.
Of course, my girls like most others haven’t had a life of sitcom problems solved in 22 minutes and a laugh track. I know the past few years have demanded more from each of them than any daughter should endure. Yet, with graduation and its redux in 2 years — I wonder and hope that the bumps and bruises are offset by lessons either the world or I can teach them.
When they were little, I would put a quote of the week up on the fridge — we would read it — sometimes they remembered and sometimes it was a “roll-your-eyes at mom” thing. Reminiscing for this week, I looked at some of my old weekly kid journals and realized that many of the quotes were relevant to both Tuesday night’s graduation and my 5 mom lessons. So, I’ve bracketed my topics with quotes that work for the fridge or just maybe life.
Lesson #1: Ladylike Modesty — maybe, not so much.
Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women. –> Nora Ephron to Wellesley (1996)
It begins at that moment of labor when the world shrinks to you and the small human emerging from your body. Spread open to the world, I think there was only one moment per daughter that I lost my focus — that I remembered I was naked in a room full of people. My oldest was born on Thanksgiving Day on a very quiet maternity floor, allowing the doctor to go home for lunch and return so he could hover A lot. When I went into that final stage of labor — the Dr. W stood in the accepted position, poised like a catcher in the Major Leagues. Like a catcher, he began to call plays, telling me how to improve my technique — seriously. Whatever he was saying blurred into the “waa-waa” of Charlie Brown’s teacher; what I remember is the nurse standing behind him making faces and shaking her head for me to ignore his instructions.
Conversely, with my youngest, I remember Dr. G (partner in the practice) quite well. There was no time for frivolities — she was born within 45 minutes of me arriving at the hospital, on a rainy Tuesday (somewhere). My reality came and went with the waves of my body, yet it snapped into focus when the doctor said, “Do you want to deliver her?” Really? Wasn’t I doing that? He very earnestly explained that some women sort of fold themselves in half and catch their own child — not a concept I embraced. Stripped and vulnerable, I didn’t care who wandered in and out as I cradled them against my heart. Add years of mama OTJ training that immunized me from just about any possible vanity, up to and including shrugging when the nurse and the grand rounds team opened the door as I finished my shower while staying at the hospital with my daughter.
Lesson #2: Belief in Magic — bippity boppity boo
In response to those who say to stop dreaming and face reality, I say keep dreaming and make reality. –> Kristian Kan
When the girls were little, they built leprechaun houses at school. It was a big deal, and they were convinced if they constructed the perfect domicile, leprechauns would come to visit with rainbows, shillelaghs, and pots of gold. Every spare minute at home, they cobbled together Polly Pocket houses, sticks, and random objects from their rooms to build a glorious “Seuss-like” edifice. St. Patrick’s day arrived, and as they got home from school laughing, bedecked in green they settled at the kitchen table for snacks. As I took some kitchen towels upstairs to the laundry, it seemed an ordinary after school. Suddenly, they heard me scream, “Did you see him?” They rushed upstairs asking me what I meant. I told them I’d seen a flash of green coming from the bedroom. Could it have been? As they went into the room, the floor was scattered with fat golden coins (Sacajawea dollars, to be exact). They were ecstatic — a leprechaun had chosen their house & I had scared him into dropping some of his gold.
Listening to their stories, their vivid imaginations — watching them hold onto beauty even when the world’s prettiness dimmed considerably — have brought such delight and pride.
Lesson #3: Curiosity — always be curioser & curioser (random Alice reference)
We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths –> Walt Disney
In family lore, my 1st word was “da”, my 2nd “book”, and the 3rd was “why”. That explains so much 🙂 It’s something I’ve tried to teach the girls — wonder and whys about the world around them make it so much cozier. Imagine all the millions of things, the delights that we haven’t discovered, and sharing a new find with each another makes it more fun. The first time my oldest had sushi — she fell in love. She wanted her 5th birthday party at a sushi bar, and why not? To this day — it’s her go to delight. For the younger, there was this one day in the San Diego Zoo. Back-story is that she adored polar bears almost from birth. When we went into the habitat at the zoo — one of big, lumbering white bears wandered to the window. As my baby put her palms against the glass, he stretched to his full height and had the glass not been there she would have been stroking his belly as she did the cat or her stuffed bears. Realistically we would have been lunch, yet her face as she turned from the glass — I see it like a photo. Together we would dance in rain, or drive an unknown road, or pick up some weird fruit in the grocery. Many nights we had girl picnics and threw a blanket on the floor and filled it with our favorites — caprese, guacamole and for a time we would make chocolate fondue with strawberries, bananas, pretzels, or fat navel oranges. One night we accidentally dropped a basil leaf from the caprese into the chocolate and a new, delicious tradition was born.
Lesson #4: Fear — it was the best and worst of times.
Real courage is holding on to a still voice in your head that says, ‘I must keep going.’ It’s that voice that says nothing is a failure if it is not final. That voice that says to you, ‘Get out of bed. Keep going. I will not quit –> Cory Booker to Yale University (2013)
There has no fear like the ones you have for your children. Elizabeth Stone wrote that the decision to have a child is to decide to “forever have your heart walking around outside your body”. I can’t think of a more perfect way to describe those breath-stopping moments when there is nothing you can do except tell them you are there and that even when it can fix nothing, your love will blanket them from head to toe. Those moments can be big and life threatening or they can be small, playground, or basketball court seconds. My youngest played basketball fiercely — 100% passion, the way she does everything. I can remember aching in the last seconds of a game as she guarded the baseline so tightly the only way the inbounder (my word) could stave off a 5 second violation was to bounce it off my daughter’s shins. That must have happened 6 times before the other girl got frustrated and threw a wild pass down the court, easily stolen by our point guard. At the end of the game, as juice boxes were handed out — I looked at her calves, bruises blossoming — and watched as she shrugged off the compliments because it was her goal was to keep the ball off the court. That was one of those, “mama learns” moments. My instinct was to let my fears surface — to fuss and pet her or soothe her with the kit of remedies I always had. I didn’t — she had accomplished what she set out to do — and the bruises I longed to fix were the price she paid. Of course, unless you’re from North Carolina, basketball isn’t life and death. There are other times, sitting at a beside in a darkened room, when the 3ams carry you into bleak, shadowed places strung with a million fears of loss and helplessness. Those fears, small and large, routine or cataclysmic were my teachers. As you have those hearts walking about outside of you — you, or at least I, discovered in myself a courage, a willingness to question, to advocate and even, at times, to hold the “scared” inside. Of course, those 3ams still appear in all of us from time to time and you roll with them, hoping that the tools you’ve shared will get them through their own dark nights.
Lesson #5: Joy — “joy comes in the morning”
One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar –> Helen Keller & Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet –> Thich Nhat Hanh
*so I couldn’t choose…
Imagine a life, where you wake up every morning listening to your favorite soundtrack then multiply it by 18 years and make it stereo for 16 of them. As a girl/young woman, I didn’t see myself as a mother. The minute each of them looked at me, it upended my world — completely and utterly in the best way possible. For every moment of fear, there were a thousand hours that were filled with magic and curiosity and joy. That girl who thought that children narrowed you was so wrong. Being a mom, being their mom, has broadened my horizons, opened my eyes and I’ve had the privilege of seeing them become them — an amazing gift. Given the multitudinous lessons being their mom has imparted, there are simple ones I want to teach them. I want them to be their own women, choosing/blazing their own paths, finding a career that sparks their mind and heart, discovering love that swoops, soars, and values equal voices, and the music & laughter of life. Given my love of quotes, I can always find someone who can say it better, and in this case it’s the Book of Common Prayer. While neither my girls nor I were baptized in the Episcopal Rite, there is one section of one of the many prayers that sums up much of what I want them to know: “Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works”.
Each day that I can help them find those things is golden.
- Lady is a Tramp (Lena Horne)- nobody sings it better than Ms. Horne. Her 1948 recording is utterly timeless. I love that a song written in 1937 pricks the notions of “lady-like” and that it’s just as relevant today with the Lady Gaga/Tony Bennett duet.
- Fight song (Rachel Platten) – oh, so poppy! It’s one of those earworm songs that make you smile and somehow you know the words — through some weird cultural osmosis. In her description, Rachel attributes its popularity to the fact that everyone has those “voices” in their head, saying they can’t — and her song is a refutation of that.
- Brave (Sara Bareilles) – such a huge music crush on her. This song, which she wrote with one of the guys from .fun is empowering in such a non-cheesy way, if that makes any sense. It’s not sunshine and rainbows, it’s you have to go and do it — “say what you want to say/and let the words fall out” — whether it’s claiming who you are, or protecting those you love.
- Put your records on (Corinne Bailey Rae) – this song hooked me because of its opening reference to Bob Marley — and it’s that old message of everything will be ok — just stop stressing. I think the brandy her voice sounds like, would probably help too.
- Just Around The Riverbend (Judy Kuhn) – Ignoring for the moment, there are 3 Disney songs on the list, while I fully agree with many of the feminist criticisms/re-readings of the movies and omg the history, yikes! — I also love this one as much as they do. Seeing what lies ahead, where the road leads — is so often not part of the “girl” canon, and I love that Pocahontas & Belle & Ariel all want more than the life they know, unconcerned by the conventions. Even Ellie in the heartbreaking opening sequence of “Up” knows “adventure is out there”.
- Part of Your World (Jodi Benson) – Ariel’s journey to know herself and her place “on land and sea” echoes with many girls as they perch on rocks, and sing to the stars. Finding their passions, curious to know.
- How Will I Know? (from Enchanted) – once you start asking questions, how do you know you have the right answers – is there a manual, an instruction book? – and as a mom, you have to answer “no” – life sometimes answers your questions (or it doesn’t)
- Who Are You? (the Who) – the hardest question in the world – it begs one to be curious about life big & small – do you know at 16, or 30 or 50 or even 71 (maybe Pete Townsend knows)?
- And She Was (Talking Heads) — there is no more perfectly magical song. I can turn this up, and all three of us sing, two really well and my duck voice. I think there is a primal memory in the song that makes it universal
- Everything She Does Is Magic (Police) — the girls may run screaming into the street, but there should be a Sting/Police song on the list. This is one I thought was a love song — until I had children, and it became life — seeing them each day discover and experience the world around us.
- Daydream (the Lovin Spoonful or Kermit) — one of those lie on your back, and find cloud animals in the sky kind of songs. In one of my “silly mom” moments, we would stretch out underneath the Calder mobile in the college art gallery (so it wasn’t that busy) — and watch it spin above us
- Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon) — though the song intermixes darkness and light, his lyrics tell of hope & dread — he always comes down on the side of hope — and reframes the discussion into a journey of discovery
- It’s My Life (Bon Jovi) – For as much as he loves Frank Sinatra, in some ways, this is an updated version of “My Way” done for the new century… and if he can be him when his 1st professional recording was “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas” — he knows about persevering.
- The Fear (Lily Allen) — Amazingly talented English pop singer, who crossed the “pond”, with songs like “Smile”, delivers this parody of commercial culture and the insecurities that drive it. For trivia’s sake, I love that she is the daughter of Welsh comedian/actor Keith Allen, best known for the most recent BBC incarnation of Robin Hood.
- I wish I knew how it would feel to be free (Nina Simone) One of the most well-known Civil rights anthems, recorded by an amazing legend of a woman.” I wish I knew how/It would feel to be free/I wish I could break/All the chains holding me I wish I could say/All the things that I should say/Say ’em loud say ’em clear/For the whole round world to hear”. Her goal is one for which I strive and attempt to show my girls.
- Fighter (Christina Aguilera) – It’s like the gift fear brings – pain teaches you a response. Learn how to harness it and challenge yourself to move beyond it – she does a great job laying out the premise. If you want a slightly roughened up version, check out the one by Darren Criss.
- You make me feel like Dancing (Leo Sayer) – It is so 70s, but it just makes me smile. The girls discovered it on the soundtrack to Ella Enchanted. The lyrics are nondescript, but the melody is infectious.
- When the Red, Red robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ along (Al Jolson & me)—When I lifted my girls from their cradles for the first good morning snuggle, breakfast, diaper of the day – I would sing this cheerful little tune. I don’t know why – I think the “live, love, laugh & be happy” part was as much a daily hope for them, as a song fractured by my squished duck singing voice.
- What a Wonderful world (Louis Armstrong/Joey Ramone) and Wonderful World (Sam Cooke) – So for the longest time, I mixed up these songs. Both are pure joy with a syncopated beat.
- Happy (Marina & the Diamonds) – despite her growing fanbase, this Welsh/Greek singer-songwriter is still considered somewhat of an Indie artist. This quiet little affirmation song finds the joy inside of us.
Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea; drink the wild air –> Ralph Waldo Emerson