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She did cartwheels with the girls who lived in the white house across the street.
My mother is in nearly all of my earliest childhood memories. She encouraged me to paint, explore calligraphy, and use pipe cleaners to make frogs and ladybugs. She loved when I sang and danced and rode horses and did backflips off the diving board.
When I was sick, my mother brought the black-and-white television into my bedroom along with a little bell, which she told me to ring if I needed anything. On those miserable days, I watched My Three Sons and The Don Ho Show until my mother emerged with green medicine and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup served on a swirly green and blue plastic tray.
One day, I didn’t want to be my mother’s twin anymore.
Pink and yellow were not my colors.
I remember shouting and slamming doors: the tears.
I saw my mother throw her hands up, exhausted, not knowing what else to do.
I felt powerful then. Driving her to pain and chaos was fun.
Now that I have a teenager in the house, I want to tell my mother, I’m sorry. Because I see how precious it is, that time when our children are young. And what a gift it is, to let a mother hold on to the little things for another day, another year.
Because it hurts when our children reject our cuddles.
Because it was cruel to play with her heart.
Even when I didn’t give her any credit, my mother has remained steadfast, guiding me with an invisible hand.
She still is.
I suspect she always will be.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
Hey mom, you have two good hands. And from the looks of this photo, you knew how to style your own hair. Do you think you could have done something with mine? Seriously. Also, if you still have that hat, can I have borrow it? xoxoRASJ
It is impossible for me to close my blogoversary month without celebrating my dear old friend’s Kasey Mathews‘ brand new book Preemie: Lessons in Love, Life & Motherhood, which is being put out on the shelves today at a bookstore near you! I’ve known Kasey since 6th grade. We were in House 3 together. We even went to Senior Ball together with our most excellent dates. (Hi Lenny & JMo!)
Anyway, Kasey’s book has been born! The premise? I’m lifting it from the back cover of her book:
In her early thirties, Kasey Mathews had it all: a loving husband, a beautiful two-year old son, and a second baby on the way. But what seemed a perfect life was shattered when she went into labor four months early and delivered her one-pound, eleven ounce daughter, Andie.
One pound and eleven ounces, people!
A can of Progresso soup weighs one pound and three ounces.
rasj: Kase, you are brutally honest in your memoir, especially about how you did not want to touch Andie when she was so tiny. You call her a “half-done baby” and admit that – initially — you didn’t even want to see her. I imagine in anticipation of this book coming out, you discussed these feelings with her. How did you explain things so that she could understand?
Kasey: When I began writing this book, I had to put aside my worries of “what will people think,” and that meant Andie, too. I just never could have opened up as much as I did, and I think the story would have suffered. Of course that doesn’t mean I didn’t worry once it was all written down. But I decided it worth the risk of judgment to give voice to the thoughts and feelings I believe so many mothers have (not just preemie moms) but are too afraid and ashamed to say out loud.
As far as Andie is concerned, she’s such an old soul and just seems to “get” things on a different level. I haven’t read her the book yet (although I’ve recently decided to) but conversations around her birth and my reaction have been ongoing. I remember a time when we were curled up in bed together looking at the photo album of her first year. I had pointed to a photo of her just after her birth and told her how afraid I was of her. She had replied in a teasing voice, “Well, that’s really nice, Mom. What kind of parent would think that?” To which I replied, “Well, me, I guess,” and we had both laughed. But when we got serious, and I explained to her that my fear of losing her was so great and so overwhelming, and that I ultimately had to learn to choose love over fear, the look in her eyes told me that she understood.
rasj: You mention that a dog attacked you when you were 5-years old, resulting in 49 stitches and scars. You said that your father offered you plastic surgery to “fix” the scars, but you refused. Looking back now, what do your scars mean to you? And do you think you gained something from that terrible accident that actually helped you on your journey with Andie?
Kasey: Some of us have scars on the outside, but we all have them on the inside. I believe our scars tell our stories. They make us who we are. Andie’s birth was such a traumatic event, and I think I referred back to my dog bite as a frame of reference, because it was the only other traumatic episode I’d ever known. What I gained was the perspective of looking through my parent’s eyes and for the first time truly understanding how they felt not knowing what was going to happen to their child. Although the circumstances were different, that perspective gave me the strength to know that they’d walked the path before me, and that I could do it as well.
rasj:During the darkest times, you found strength in homeopathic medicines. Can you explain how non-Western therapies (like energy work, Reiki and yoga) have helped you and your family?
Kasey: Until Andie’s birth, I hadn’t known about Holistic medicine and discovered that it was truly an “alternative” way of looking at a medical situation. It differs from traditional western medicine in that it approaches the body as a whole interrelated system, such as the lungs, gut and skin are all tied together within the human body. These alternative therapies made so much sense to me, but I want to stress that we used them in conjunction with traditional medicine, and I truly believe that pursuing these parallel paths account for Andie’s tremendous success.
rasj.Did you ever contact the pediatrician who predicted Andie would always be small and that she would have learning disabilities? If you could talk to him now, what would you want to say to him?
Kasey: For years I wanted to, but felt it wasn’t worth the stress it would cause me. Recently, however, after Andie’s 11-year-old check up where her growth was nearly off the charts, I used the device of writing a letter to release those pent-up feelings. The letter was never sent but the writing of it allowed me to tell him just how wrong he was about everything. And in that same letter, I also thanked him; because what I came to understand was that as difficult as he was to deal with, his doubt was ultimately a gift. He fueled our belief and conviction that Andie would prove him so wrong and show him, and so many others, that she would not be what they wanted her to be, but what she wanted to be.
rasj:I adore the way you show Tucker and Andie interacting with each other, how he becomes an unofficial part of her physical therapy. But it isn’t always perfect, right? They fight, too, right?
Kasey: Fight? Andie and Tucker? No! Never! *laughs * Their bickering was so awful one day that I screamed at them to stop fighting and threw the apple I had in my hand straight across the kitchen. Fortunately, it missed both their heads, but… not the window! How’s that for perfect?
rasj: That’s awesome! Obviously, you have a great arm! Now tell us something wonderful that has happened to Andie since you finished writing the book.
Kasey: I think Andie would tell you the most wonderful event in her life as of late, was getting contact lenses. She’d worn glasses since she was two and started asking about contacts when she was nine. Her eye doctor (Dr. V. from the book) confirmed that she was a candidate for contacts, but needed to be at an age when she was responsible enough to care for them. The contacts were her eleventh birthday gift.
rasj:Looking back, is there information you wish you had that you would want to share with parents of preemies?
Kasey: There are three vital pieces of information I want to share with parents of preemies. First, while in the NICU, cover your baby’s isolet with a dark, heavy blanket to keep him/her in as womb-like an environment as long as possible. Secondly, allow yourself to see a vision of your child in the future and hold on to that vision. And lastly — and this is for anyone who’s experienced any sort of event trauma – remember you are not alone. Know that most likely whatever you’re thinking and feeling, someone else already has thought those same thoughts and felt those same feelings and walked that same path.
• • •
Because Kasey is awesome-sauce, she is offering a copy of her book to one lucky winner.
For a chance to win:
Leave a comment about something regarding child-rearing that has been challenging for you.
Tweet us @rasjacobson & @kaseymathews
• • •
Other blogoversary giveaways you can enter to win:
The moment I found Galit Breen‘s blog, These Little Waves, I sighed. I felt like I’d settled down into a soft leather chair and found a comfortable place. Delicious pictorial spreads paired with lush descriptive writing are Galit’s trademark, and I don’t think I have ever missed a post since I found her.
Today, Galit writes of online friendships. How we know each other in parts. How comments are so deeply received. I admire Galit for the woman I believe she is. The woman she shows to the world: even if it is a slightly edited version of herself.
If you haven’t yet stumbled upon These Little Waves, you need to. And Tweeps can follow her at @GalitBreen.
• • •
Savor Each Word
I curl into my green chair by the light of the moon, and my laptop.
My two-handed key strokes (consistent teasing fodder for my husband, but my preferred method nonetheless) fill this space.
As much as I love the touch and the sound and even the smell of Motherhood, this Small Quiet is what I crave.
I click into my latest blog post, ready to devour its comments.
Love letters and responses to my writing wrapped neatly within your words.
“Oh me, too.” One soothes.
“You’ll be fine.” Another encourages.
“Your flexibility is amazing.” Says a third. And here, I falter.
I blush at this kindness because I know it doesn’t speak my Whole Truth.
I’m the Mom who enforces cleanups before movies, the one who brushes out every single snaggle despite LOUD protests, and the one who plants her feet deeply into aged carpet that has so very little Give in the face of Change.
So when, through my writing, I reveal a single moment where I embrace Life’s Flow puzzle pieced to the many (truly, many) times that leave me breathless and speechless and digging my toes deeper, and more firmly, in place – I falter.
I worry that what I’ve splayed is Unfair, Untrue, Un-me. And this is what stains my cheeks pink.
But here is what I’ve learned in the delicious time that I’ve been blogging: What we share is a slice of who we are, not the whole picture, and that’s okay.
All of our braids are woven in their own ways. My own is wisps of Going With The Flow edging the Flat Ironed Edges of my day-to-day.
Each one a piece of my puzzle and when shared with you, a piece of Our Story. Significant, in this unique way.
The gift of our online friendships lies within these shared moments. Me in my green chair and you in yours, separated by many miles but just a few heartstrings.
In our everyday lives, compliments are often brushed aside, pushed away.
But in our writing, we can pause this weathered habit, savor each word, and let it in as our own.
This, I (finally) know for sure. And so, I’ll start.
Renée, those words up there that had me shaking my head defiantly like my Israeli Mama taught me to, are yours. And I’m here to say – Thank you, truly. You lifted me with them.
Back on May 13th, I celebrated my one year blogoversary. I had it in my head to surprise the person who posted a comment closest to my original launch time with a gift card for $20 to his or her favorite bookstore. I also decided that this “gift” would come with strings attached, as I planned to ask the recipient of the reward to write a little somethin’-somethin’ about the book he or she purchased. (Seriously, how manipulative is that?) As you can imagine, depending on your perspective, this “gift” could have been considered a heinous curse. Thankfully, the fabulous Julie C. Gardner responded to my May 13, 2011 blog at 5:21 PM, and became the winner of my extra-secret super-stealth-mode-blogoversary-contest. (*Cue the paper streamers and the cheesy horn.*)
But Julie was so gracious! She was not only excited to receive my offer, she took control of it. She told me not to fuss with purchasing a book or even a gift card; she would buy the books herself. She simply asked me for a few recommendations of titles – and I shot her a check in the mail. FYI: Julie Gardner is the easiest person in the world to shop for. Ever. She is also an amazing writer. When you visit her blog, By Any Other Name, you will see what I mean. Julie gets people to confess things. She knows stuff about me that some of my friends don’t know. How does she do that?
So, thank you, Julie, for giving me the best blogoversary gift: a piece of writing, inspired by a few books that I really loved, a reminder of the love we mothers have for our sons, and a mutual appreciation for truth-telling in writing. And now, here’s Julie. Call her “Awesome.”
• • •
So I’ve been reading. A lot. And not simply because I’m an English teacher-slash-writer; or because Renée bought me a few books* to celebrate her blogoversary. (Hooray!) No, to me reading is legal procrastination. It implies I’m serious about my work; researchy, even. (I know “researchy” isn’t a word, but neither is “complainy,” and I use that one frequently. I’m an English teacher. I take liberties. With frequentiousness. Or whatever.)
Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. Reading. A lot. More specifically, three books with a common theme:
Mother + Son = Complicated Relationship.
(That’s the only math in this post. You’re welcome.)
And now, cue the gist, with no Spoiler Alerts necessary:
First, in Emma Donoghue’s Room, five-year-old Jack and Ma are prisoners in the storage shed of their captor, a kidnapper who “fathered” the little boy. Young Jack has spent the entirety of his life inside Room believing nothing real exists Outside; until his fifth birthday when Ma decides he must attempt an escape, thereby risking a separation that’s unimaginably terrifying.
Next, Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin explores the aftermath of a Columbine-esque massacre. The story unfolds entirely in letters written by Eva (the mother of the teenaged killer) to her estranged husband, Franklin. Having nothing left to lose, Eva admits to feeling ambivalent about motherhood, horrified by Kevin’s darkness, and ultimately resigned to surviving the downfall of the family she feels unsuited to embrace.
Finally, Lisa Grunwald’s The Irresistible Henry House follows the life of an orphaned baby named Henry who is “mothered” by a series of college coeds in the (historically accurate) Practice House of a well-intentioned university’s home economics department. Abandoned by his biological mother, Henry is adopted by Martha, the childless head of the program who treats Henry as her sole reason for being. This string of disproportionate attachments hinders Henry’s ability to connect and trust as he becomes a man.
Got it? Good.
Because I spent three weeks engrossed by these mothers and sons; three weeks witnessing their disasters; three weeks during which I’d pause and think, “Crap, I’m glad this isn’t my life!”
(Except in fancier words because I am, after all, an English teacher and therefore fancy.)
Like this: Woe to these women confronting fear and loneliness and death! I can’t imagine such depths of despair!
And also this: Hope leaks from them until they lose the will to fight the loss. What have they to do with me?
Indeed, it’s easy to compartmentalize these mothers as Fiction-Only. Such tragedy wouldn’t happen in real life. Except it did. And it does.
The unlikelihood is irrelevant; because the best novels carry us to the unexpected, the unfathomable , the extreme; while holding up a mirror and daring us to look.
Despite my comfortable “separateness” from Martha and Ma and Eva, I couldn’t help noticing similarities between these wrecked women and me. (And not merely of the “I have a son, too” variety; although I do have a son who will be fourteen next week.)
…These mothers have good intentions. Hey. I have good intentions! …They’re redefined by the very existence of their sons. Most definitely. …They commit themselves to their tasks; make sacrifices they question but endure; struggle with their own incidents of selfishness. All right. This is true for me, as well. …They are, at times, disappointed by their sons. Yes. Sadly, yes. …They have needs and desires; battle insecurity and pride; display strengths and weaknesses exacerbated by their sons. And, oh yeah, I do too. …They learn that death is not, in fact, the worst dénouement imaginable. Because it isn’t. If you think hard, it’s not.
These three books chafed me with their honesty. Martha, Ma and Eva say what most mothers never dare to in words that made me nod and blush and fold the pages for revisiting.
Mothers do not often admit to having resentment or favorites or paralyzing regret. We foolishly expect to control our human frailties once we become parents. But then we don’t. Abandon our frailties, I mean.
In fact, our flaws announce themselves in stark relief against the backdrop of perfection we imagine.
These authors, however, tear down the backdrop and expose what parenthood – in its most distilled moments – can teach us:
That hope and love can be more difficult than loss.
But oh. We cannot ever give it up.
The hope, I mean.
And then, of course, the love.
What did you think you knew about parenting but have found yourself questioning? How has the truth of parenting been different from what you expected?
• • •
*NOTE: There is no way that Julie could have purchased all three of these books from my paltry $20. So thank you to Julie for subsidizing some of my blogoversary present. Seriously.
When Monkey was entering kindergarten, he had to take a pre-screening test.
The shriveled woman sitting at a tiny desk asked him to draw a stick figure of a person, which he did perfectly. (Well, the arms were coming out of the head, but he remembered arms and hands and a few fingers.) She asked if he could recite his ABC’s (which, of course, he did because I had taught them to him.) She asked if he could spell his first and last name, and he could. (Well, at least his first name.) She asked him to count as high as he could, and then she gently told him he could stop… when he hit 50.
Sitting in the back of the room, I beamed.
Because I had taught him to count to 50.
Then Monkey and the tired, old test giver chatted it up a bit, during which time I assumed she was assessing his overall intellectual and emotional readiness.
(I swear I almost bowed and said, “Thank you! Thank you very much!)
Then Mrs. Tester asked Monkey a question.
“Tell me about your parents. What does your father do?”
And while he started simply enough, my child launched into a four-minute speech about what his daddy does every day at work. “My dad fixes eyes,” said my son, bursting with pride, making my spouse sound like the savior to all people born with eyes (which, let’s face it, is pretty much everyone, right?)
Four minutes is a really long time to listen to someone talk.
When they are not talking about you.
But that’s what I did.
Because secretly I was excited. I figured, well, if Monkey said all that about a man who’s home for three hours of his day, I can’t wait to hear what he is going to say about me. After all, I am the one who feeds him and bathes him and wipes his butt and cares for him when he is sick. (Except barf. Hubby takes care of all barf.) I am the one who shleps him to his activities and his play dates. I am the one who takes him to museums to introduce him to art. I am the one who reads to him and cuddles with him before naps and at bedtime. I am the one who plays games with him and makes grocery shopping and doing laundry fun.
Finally Mrs. Tester asked, “What does your mommy do?”
Monkey shifted around in his seat.
Except for the creak from his chair, the room was silent.
I sat at the back of the room and watched Monkey scratch his head.
“She talks on the phone a lot.”
What? My brain was silently screaming. What is that little freak talking about?!
I will not tell you about the ride home, where I asked Monkey to explain his big choke how he got stuck explaining what it is that I do ever day. About how he rationally explained that daddy was the one who made the money, and he really couldn’t figure out how to explain what I did.
Now, it is obviously not fair to dump all this on the child. Hubby is not the best facilitator when it comes to Mother’s Day. This is because he generally golfs on Sundays. And since Hubby is out playing with his wood relaxing with his boys, there is no one to oversee the “special last-minute Mother’s Day present making” in our house, and I’m not about to pull out the markers and demand, “Make me something to show me how much you love me!”
Let’s just say I have learned to keep my expectations for Mother’s Day kinda low.
Don’t get me wrong, my boy loves me.
I don’t really need a special day for him to show it. And, to be fair, Hubby always comes through with some kind of brunch.
(You know, after golf.)
Plus I have faith that one day, when he is a daddy, Monkey will have that moment of clarity that only comes while pacing across the floor at a ridiculous hour while cradling a fragile, little person who frickin’ refuses to sleep.
He will groggily realize, “My mom did this for me.”
And as the guilt gratitude washes over him in that late hour, perhaps he will consider ordering me some overpriced flowers from over the Internet.
Maybe he will even consider calling me.
And that reminds me.
I should probably call my mother.
How does Mother’s Day go at your house?What did you get that rocked your world? (Or didn’t.) Tell me everything. I’m living vicariously.
This piece was written by a former student from Monroe Community College, Crissy Teague. She is one smart, beautiful, tough cookie.
Everything I own in the world fits behind two locked closet doors. Last year I divorced, got fired and denied for unemployment. My nine-year old and I moved back home with my mother. I felt lost. What could I control? I could take care of what little I owned. I locked away clothes, movies, CD’s, shoes, video games and hygiene products. No one would borrow or damage what was “mine.” It belonged to me. My thirteen year-old sister would no longer take my clothes without asking, not even the dirty ones — (I locked the hamper up too). Everything changed, but I would be in control of my little world.
Then, my son threw two mega fits while we accompanied my mother to the mall. He first cried when I refused his request for a certain video game. Telling him to “put it on his Christmas list,” or “we can’t afford it because Mommy’s not working,” or “you hardly play the the your other Wii games” did not make the tears subside. Mega fit number two came when I gave him a caramel rice cake topped with peanut butter to snack on. His lack of gratitude, and double dose of tears in two hours resulted in up a “starving kids in Africa” speech.
Fuming, I sat arms crossed. How could my child be so ungrateful? Why is he so selfish/self-centered? After a few moments I realized, this behavior is learned: Narcissism as taught by me. I remembered my belongings under lock and key. I’ve been doing this all wrong. Not just training my child, but living. My new conviction: God did not breathe life into me so I could horde pleasures for myself then die, an empty existence.
The little I own in the closets now seems like too much. It’s time to come out of the closets. I will give to my local community. I will go through my movies/video games and donate to local orphanages. My son has extra toys, books to give to a daycare, or hospital children’s wing, or library. A dozen fancy dresses and shoes can go to the Fairy Godmother project. Instead of spending nights indoors watching movies, my son and I will volunteer. It is better to give than to receive. I’m going to give my son a rich legacy—a legacy of giving to others.
What are you holding onto that might benefit someone else? Needs have never been greater. What better time to give than now? You may feel like you don’t have much. I understand. I’m a jobless single mother coming out of two closets. I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to give. I challenge you to do what you can. Our relatives, our friends, our neighbors need us. The quality of community is in our hands. Who knows the outcome? The life you change may be your own.